Sibling Rivalry When Caring For Elderly Parents: Causes and Strategies


April 03, 2017 in: Sibling rivalry when caring for elderly parents,

Conflict can arise as parents get to an elderly age and begin to depend on their family for more support. For children of elderly parents, this can provoke sibling new rivalries or ones that have been distant for years. Learn more about why aging parents can tear families apart.

Causes of Distress Between Siblings Caring for Elderly Parents

Families are inherently complex with many emotional layers. Studies have found that as parents age sibling disagreement stems from two main themes: money and inequity.

1. Inequity

In today’s world families are more geographically spread. This can automatically put the majority of responsibility of care in one sibling's hands. The disproportion can result in resentment from the sibling living closest to their parents but can also make those who live the farthest feel “off the hook.” At times the ones who are the farthest do not fully respect the mutual responsibility and choose the path of denial or ignorance. Being the farthest away the sibling cannot live the day to day of their parents' needs and therefore cannot understand and appreciate the heavy work that goes into this kind of care.  

2. Financial Inheritance

Finance has always been a source of conflict for families. If a household net worth has declined, this can multiply the severity of sibling quarrels. Ideally, humans are not innately motivated by money and would put family relationships first. Unfortunately, we live in a world where money is a necessity and therefore remains a constant source of tension between families.

Taking on the responsibility of caring for an elderly parent is very stressful on its own but when inequity and finance are added, animosity is enhanced and tensions build. The sibling who lives the closest and has provided most of the parents care may feel entitled to a greater share of the financial hand off. At the same time, the sibling who lives furthest might believe he or she is making careless financial decisions on the part of the elderly parent.


Tips for Improving Communication Breakdowns Between Siblings

Keeping open lines of communication during this time is essential but far from easy. Consider these communication strategies with your sibling(s) as you deal with aging parents.

1. A Family Meeting

Ideally, the issues mentioned above has been discussed before the parent comes to the point where they are unable to make decisions for themselves. Beginning discussions early can help lessen the level of stress when coming to final decisions on caregiving and financial inheritance. Calling family meetings allow for mental and emotional preparation. The end goal is to determine each sibling’s role, obligations, and decision-making authority. Family meetings can also decrease chances of arguments during holiday get-togethers and other social events.  

2. Counselors and Mediators

Sometimes an objective third party can calm emotions during these meetings. Specialists in this area can work with families to plan for parents' care without the emotions that the siblings inevitably have. A counselor might help bridge differences between siblings and rekindle relationships. A mediator can help build middle ground and closure.

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