Unearthing and Burying Ancient Sibling Rivalries

Many adult children I encounter who are taking care of their aging parents, struggle to work together with their siblings. Relationship issues from childhood return when faced with the need to collaborate and communicate about parents.

In what becomes a form of role reversal, adult children find themselves needing to get involved in healthcare, finances, and day-to-day care needs of those who once cared for them.

This is a challenging shift in roles. But when you add the additional challenge of adult children who cannot function as a unit or even just get along, the shift becomes even more difficult. Here are some simple suggestions to help navigate these challenging waters.

  1. Recognize what the underlying issues are that are coming up for yourself. Recognize there are many sides to our childhood experiences and memories. Try to empathize with your sibling and what they experienced. Seek individual counseling if difficult childhood issues become overwhelming and negatively impact your ability to care for aging parents.
  2. Focus the conversation on your elderly parents and what their objective care needs are rather than what happened when you were kids; who was mom or dad’s favorite, or why you dislike each other.
  3. Focus on problem solving in the present, rather than re-hashing the past.
  4. Bring in professionals as needed. Review legal documents and meet with an elder law attorney to understand who has legal authority to manage finances and health care if parents are no longer capable. If no legal documents are done, and parents are still capable and competent, execute these very important documents ASAP. If disputes among siblings continue, the legal representative will likely need to step in and take control.
  5. Meet with a professional care manager, counselor or social worker who specializes in geriatrics, to help mediate differences of opinion and improve communication between family members.
  6. If differences among siblings lead to conflict over how to provide care, have an independent geriatric care management assessment performed so all parties can accurately understand what care options there are and how to implement them.

by Joan Garbow, LCSW, CCM