Sibling rivalry begins in childhood, but unfortunately it doesn’t always end there. Faced with the challenges of caring for an aging parent adult siblings often fall back into traditional family roles. The “responsible one” may automatically fall into the role of the primary caregiver. Maybe the “difficult one” won’t pitch in as much as the other siblings want him to or the “successful one” promptly puts a check in the mail. Ideally, the roles would all come together in a way that would compliment each other. Unfortunately, that’s not always the case. Being thrust into this situation can stir up old rivalries and emotions. This often causes conflict.
Conflict can also come about when siblings disagree about the type of care parents should receive. Sometimes siblings are fundamentally opposed to certain types of facilities. Other times the disagreement may be a result of differing perspectives on the level of care needed. For example, an out of town sibling may not realize how serious the situation is or how great the need is. Parents will often put on a good show when the out of town child comes to visit – leaving them with a skewed view of the parent’s condition. Meanwhile, the sibling serving as the primary caregiver gets a different perspective day in and day out. The financial aspect of the care can also lead to conflict. There may be widely different views on how to spend the parent’s money.
Depending on the level of conflict the best course of action may be to enlist the help of an objective third party either through a case manager, social worker, therapist, or mediator. One of the best things family members can do to prevent things from getting to that point is to sit down and have the hard conversations with parents ahead of time. Find out what their preferences are in terms of care. If that’s not possible then ideally siblings would be able to reflect on their own strengths and weaknesses and come together to divide responsibilities and help bear the load. For example, out of town siblings may be able to pitch in financially, during their vacation time to offer respite to full-time caregivers, or by calling each day to offer emotional support (both to the parent and the caregiver). Siblings who live nearby may be able to divide assistance into areas such as food, laundry, cleaning, paying bills, transportation, medication, etc. This can help reduce the risk of caregiver burnout. Working together will ultimately work for the good of the parent and reduce the tension in the individual lives of the siblings involved.
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