She Started It, No She Started It!

Siblings are often in conflict when a parent needs long-term health care. There is debate about who does what or what assets to be liquidated to pay for care. It can be easier with planning.

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She Started It, No She Started It!
3 Min Read May 31st, 2021

You and your siblings haven't worked together as a team since the oldest packed up her VW and drove off to college. Now with your parents no longer able to manage independently, you have become responsible for managing their care. Studies[1] have shown that sibling discord can be one of the greatest sources of interpersonal stress in elder caregiving.

Whether you get along well or simply tolerate each other, now's the time to set aside your differences and work together to support your aging parents.    

Three's a Crowd

When dealing with your siblings, there are three distinct families in play. Who you were as children. Who you are as adults today. And who you will become in the future after your caregiving season. With that kind of crowd, it can be a challenge to make sense of what's really going on when conflicts arise. In the stress of caring for your parents, old jealousies and wounds may surface again. When your sibling behaves in ways that seem out of proportion or hurtful, keep in mind that aging parent issues might trigger long-buried emotions. Try not to just react. Take a deep breath. Take a walk. 

Communicate with compassion.   

Common Flashpoints

Being prepared can help your family deal with disagreements before they occur. Here are common family caregiver issues:  

  • Division of labor. Someone may assume the lion's share of the caregiving load, leading to resentment. A sibling may feel excluded. Whatever the logistics, it's important to know when to offer help and when to ask for it, working as a team. A long-distance sibling might help with phone calls or research. Local siblings might take turns checking in on their parents. Maybe one sibling is better with financial matters, and another with medical and physical care arrangements. Come up with a plan together. Divide and conquer hurt feelings through intentionally shared responsibilities.     
  • Living arrangements. Are Mom and Dad still living in their home? Is it time to seek paid caregivers? Or consider assisted living? Balancing your parents' wishes with the reality of their condition is delicate and potentially volatile. A physician or other third party can help guide the family in when and how best to make these critical decisions.  
  • Legal matters.   When parents haven't signed a legal power of attorney or advanced healthcare directive, their adult children may be forced to make critical healthcare decisions under tremendously stressful circumstances. If possible, encourage your parents to communicate their wishes while they're able to do so. Otherwise, consulting a legal advisor to help establish appropriate legal parameters can prevent much misunderstanding and heartache.  
  • Finances. Paying for long-term care can be a huge burden on the family. The LTC NEWS Cost of Care Calculator shows you these expensive costs for both today and in the future. Transparency and accountability are your allies, so siblings all have the same information about their parent's financial situation. Establish a clear communications channel when deciding who will help handle their money and pay the bills to minimize any perception of mismanagement. Hiring a trusted specialist to help evaluate Medicare and long-term care options is well worth the investment.

This difficult caregiving season, when handled with love and a generous helping of grace, can strengthen your relationship with your brothers and sisters more than ever.  

[1] (J. Jill Suitor of Louisiana State University and Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, 1994).
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About the Author

Leslie McLeod is a California artist and writer, helping families navigate drama and keep peace as they care for their aging parents.

LTC News Contributor Leslie McLeod

Leslie McLeod

Contributor since May 31st, 2021

Editor's Note

Unfortunately, it happens, not just in the United States but worldwide. Aging happens. With aging and changing health, adult children find themselves arranging or providing long-term health care for Mom or Dad.

There is stress and anxiety that go along with the job. The role of caregiver is physically and emotionally demanding. Typically, only one of the siblings, or their spouses, will be responsible. This dynamic often brings conflict inside the family at the time of crisis. 

If you are planning for your retirement, how would you want your family address your future need for long-term health care? As you get older, there is no question that you will experience changes in your health, body, and mind. These changes will increase your need for long-term care services. 

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