As parents age, they sometimes begin to rely more on adult children for assistance and support. While this change in relationship is positive in many ways, it opens up opportunities for stress and conflict. This is especially true when more than one adult child is in the picture. Meeting an aging parent’s care needs can bring to the surface sibling rivalries that have long been dormant. When not properly handled, this has the potential to tear the family apart.

It can be difficult for adult children to find common ground when caring for a parent. This is especially true when variations in beliefs, lifestyles and caregiving styles are taken into consideration. Watching a parent’s health decline also brings about feelings of sadness, frustration and helplessness. These feelings can make everyone act less reasonable and more hostile.

There are steps families can take to keep these emotions and beliefs from turning everyone into enemies and making the situation that much more complicated. Here are a few strategies to increase cooperation and help everyone to learn to get along.

Ask Your Parents

Siblings often have different beliefs regarding how to best manage their parents care needs. One might think assisted living is the right choice, while the other might want to hire a professional caregiver and help their parents to age in place. When possible, one of the best ways to handle this conflict is to ask the senior what he or she wants. Have parents participate in conversations regarding their current and future care needs or at least weigh in to the best of their abilities. Make this an honest conversation, and discuss any barriers that stand in the way of meeting parents’ wishes and goals. Having a conversation helps everyone to get on the same page, find a middle ground or agree to disagree with a little more respect.

Divide up Responsibilities

When it comes to caring for an aging parent, one child often takes on the majority of the work. While this arrangement works fine in some families, it has the potential to cause burnout, resentment and arguments. This is why it is important for the primary family caregiver to ask for what they need. If they never ask, siblings might not fully understand how they can most effectively help. They also might think that their help is not wanted, and that can create resentments too. Divide up responsibilities so that no one always has to take on the lion’s share of the work. If only one adult child is local, perhaps others can help by scheduling doctor’s appointments, managing finances or chipping in to pay for respite care through an accredited agency like Salus Homecare San Fernando Valley.

Keep Everyone Informed

A scenario almost opposite of the previous example might occur too. Sometimes, one adult child tries to control everything and leaves everyone else in the dark. This person might even limit access that siblings have to their parents. In this case, it is important to remember that everyone in the family cares. It hurts to feel left out. Avoid this by making attempts to share information equally. Children who are currently feeling left out might try to maintain a relationship with their parents despite any conflict. Letters, phone calls and emails are sometimes easier than in person visits, and they still show the person cares.

End of Life Issues

When a parent nears the end of their life, sibling conflicts are often at their worst. While one child might want to arrange hospice care, another might think the best approach is to extend life, even if it is only by hours or days, with continued medical interventions and hospital care. These types of conflicts are difficult to avoid in the moment, but they can often be prevented when parents leave medical directives.

Medical directives or a living will spell out the senior’s exact wishes at the end of their life. Things like feeding tubes, do not resuscitate orders and instructions regarding other medical care are typically addressed. In conjunction with a living will, a medical power of attorney also names one person to make healthcare decisions on the senior’s behalf if the senior is unable to do so. Speaking with an attorney is the best way to put these measures into place.

Sibling rivalries are common as parents age, but they are not a given. Understanding why siblings fight and taking a proactive approach to resolving problems before they occur is the best way to keep the family together. This gives everyone the opportunity to play a part in working toward the common goal of keeping mom or dad happy, comfortable and safe in the later years of life.