When Caregiving Creates Conflict: Advice for Squabbling Siblings

It’s an ironic twist that a parent who once refereed their squabbling kids, one day becomes the center of squabbling adults. It’s also pitiful.

If you’re one of those “children” in an adversarial relationship with your brother and/or sister, here are some thoughts and hopefully helpful advice summed up in a few words.

[Related: For Caregivers — How to Understand Who Is In Control]

Grow up! And keep reading!

I know many families who have completely fractured apart because of significant disagreements about their parent’s care. One “child” aligns with another against a third etc. like episodes of Survivor. Sibling squabbles eventually mushroom into family wars with dire consequences.

Perhaps the family’s dynamics were fractured all along and the fragile nature of a parent’s deteriorating health brought out the worst in all of them.

The Designated Daughter or Good Son

If you’re the “good” son or the default daughter who has stepped up for your parent, thank you!

Maybe everything has fallen on your shoulders because you’re the closest physically. If so, your sibling(s) across town or across the globe can and should be helping in other ways. A division of labor is ideal. But you may have to assign them specific tasks.

[Read: 5 Items to Bring Someone with Dementia]

My three cousins worked fairly well together in their mother’s care for years. Only Maggie was local, bearing the weary burden of emergency and immediate care. Her sister Jan flew in four to five times a year and many states away, their brother handled the finances.

I know Maggie sometimes resented the exhaustive day in day out responsibility of my sweet, but bona fide high maintenance aunt!

I heard an earful from Maggie about Jan and vice versa on more than one occasion, each one pleading their case to me. But underlying every one of their disagreements was the recognition that each had their mom’s best interests at heart and knew their sister did too.

You Know Who You Are

If you’re not the designated daughter or the good son, you know who you are! You know you’re too far away to run over and help Dad when he falls. You know you’re not emotionally able to offer a shoulder to cry on. And you know that your brother or sister is doing more than you are.

[Read: ‘The Long Hello:’ An Alzheimer’s Memoir Worth Reading]

So step up and acknowledge that fact! Tell your caregiver sibling(s) that you realize they are in the front lines of parent responsibility while your life goes on unencumbered.

Going Solo

My brother David died in a tragic car accident before I was born; in fact my mother was five months pregnant with me when little David was killed. My other brother Jerry also predeceased me, leaving me orphaned and alone in the care of my mother. I ran things solo in behalf of my mom and resented that my brother had abandoned me! I know it was silly; I just felt angry that Jerry was gone and very alone.

When Children Become the Adults

I knew of too many families in which the dynamics between siblings disintegrated, leading to hostile, territorial wars because of splintered ideas about their parent’s care or finances.”  (from my book “I Will Never Forget: – A Daughter’s Story of Her Mother’s Arduous and Humorous Journey Through Dementia.”)

Most siblings do not work well together in their parent’s behalf. It’s sad but true. Kids who once played together constantly, grow up and apart. I’ve seen it too often.

In another twist of irony, the dictionary definition of Adult is: emotionally and mentally mature. I know many “adults” who act anything but “emotionally mature” when they are in a verbal war of words with their sister/brother over the decisions for their parent.

[Read Maria Shriver’s latest essay]

A real adult would honor the parent by making the decisions they would make for themselves if they could. And a real adult can “agree to disagree” with another, even a sibling and set aside petty differences for the bigger picture. Are You A Real Adult?

This article by Elaine C. Pereira originally appeared on FamilyAffaires.com


Join Maria Shriver’s Campaign to Wipe Out Alzheimer’s by visiting wipeoutalzheimers.org.

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Delivering the support you need for your stressful life events today. You are not alone. Every day a family, just like yours, begins a transition into a new way of life. If you’ve just experienced a life changing event such as a divorce proceeding, job loss, caring for aging parents, received a cancer diagnosis or are coping with special needs children, know you’re in the right place. www.FamilyAffaires.com.

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