Does Dad need home care help?
Should Mom move to assisted living?
Is it time to bring in hospice?
These are some of the most emotionally charged life decisions one can make, and they're rarely made alone. Though having support for these tough calls might seem advantageous, it's often not the reality.
Sibling rivalry—the grown-up kind, which involves fighting over parents, not toys and personal space—is quickly becoming the norm as more Americans find themselves in caregiving situations. From disagreements about inheritance issues to complex dynamics (second marriages, blended families), it's the perfect storm for explosive and destructive family conflicts.
“Before families are torn apart and spend money on costly and traumatic litigation, elder mediation can be the best solution to keep families together and save money," says Melissa Negrin-Wiener, Esq. partner, Genser Dubow Genser & Cona, an elder law and estate planning firm based in Melville, Long Island.
Before you move to mediation, keep the peace as much as possible with these communication strategies from Negrin-Wiener.
Tips for Talking to Your Siblings
Share the care: Beware the "swooping" sibling, who shows up to "fix everything" after others have been doing their best to manage the care situation, warns Negrin-Wiener. "This is often the biggest problem in families," she says.
Listen carefully: Listening is vital, especially when things can move from tense to volatile in seconds. "Try to see the person's point of view and why they're saying something," says Negrin-Wiener. "Think about how you are responding to criticism, and be willing to admit when you're wrong—that goes a long way."
Focus on feelings: Talk more about feelings, and less about actions steeped in accusations and blame, i.e. what brother didn't do, what sister did, etc., advises Negrin-Wiener.
Keep talking: When the insults start flying, hurt feelings swell. If you have to, take a break, but always come back to the conversation, Negrin-Wiener says.
Discuss everything: These meetings are almost never fun, so do your best to stay on the same page and cover a lot of ground, like end of life care, financial planning, the transferring of assets, power of attorney/health care proxy assignments, and more.
Remember the goal: In most cases, everyone around the table has the same thing in mind: what's best for their parent(s), says Negrin-Wiener. However, old issues between siblings can really cloud the view.
These tips seem simple enough on the surface, Negrin-Wiener says, until you have to apply them during heated arguments—which are often fueled by decades of hurt, resentment, jealousy, and a host of other hard feelings. "On top of it all, it's an emotional time," she adds.
If the issues are so deep they impede any movement forward, or if a sibling is not acting in a parent's best interest or helping themselves to a parent's funds, mediation and court may be the best next steps. "Sometimes, there's no healing the family; there's no going back," Negrin-Wiener says.
Tech Tools for Staying on the Same Page
Emotional distance between siblings isn't the only barrier here: for many modern families, geography makes gathering around the same table a logistical nightmare. But don't delay the inevitable. Use Skype, FaceTime, or any number of available video chat/conferencing tools to pull in family members who cannot fly in for the meeting.
For siblings sharing in the daily to dos around a parent's care, create a Lotsa Helping Hands care calendar that all can access and update (even neighbors and friends who offer to help can be added). A CaringBridge family page is perfect for efficient "one-stop-shop" communication when a parent has surgery or requires hospitalization, or just to track the ups, downs, and in-betweens of the care journey.
Also check out GreatCall's family caregiving solutions for better connectivity and safety at home, from user-friendly smart phones to wearable tech to medical alert devices.
Want more? Read Dealing with Sibling Relationships as You Age, and share these stories with friends who are struggling with sibling conflicts in their families.