When Mom fell while carrying laundry to the basement, she was badly bruised but luckily, didn’t break any bones. Nevertheless, at age 86, she was becoming frail and her 3 adult children argued about what to do. Mom was insistent that she wanted to live at home. Two of her daughters agreed they would hire outside help for her and try to make it work. The eldest son, who was recently divorced and experiencing financial problems, disagreed and thought Mom should sell her house and move into assisted living or even a nursing home. Their conversations became so heated, they often ended up yelling at each other on the phone.

It’s not uncommon for families to have disagreements about care for an aging parent, especially if they haven’t discussed advance planning or if one sibling takes on more caregiving tasks than the others. Often emotions can get the best of us. Ways to negotiate and work out conflicts with other family members include the following: 

  • Review and discuss the types of care and support your aging parent needs, right now and in the future.  Perhaps your parent needs help now with shopping, cooking, transportation, or maintenance chores. Once the needs are identified, begin a conversation about who can help with what, and how to cover costs for hiring help. 

  • Keep emotions in check. Bringing up old hurts and resentments won’t be productive and will put everyone on the defensive. Keep the past in the past and take the approach that this is a team effort.

  • Plan for emergencies and health crises. What advance planning directives are in place? What will happen in the event of your parent’s health crisis, a hospitalization, or other problem in which family members will need to mobilize quickly and make decisions?

  • Look for creative solutions. Perhaps one sibling is in a better position to assist with caregiving, but that doesn’t mean other family members can’t help out. Perhaps a sibling who lives far away can assist with insurance issues that may arise, or other tasks that can be accomplished by phone or computer.

  • Agree to check in with each other frequently. If one sibling is taking on the lion’s share of caregiving, that person will need respite to avoid emotional and physical burnout. Develop a plan that will allow for paid help when needed, and/or relief from other family members. Explore options that might allow for the primary caregiver to be reimbursed, such as through state programs or long-term care policies. 

Consider hiring a care manager. If the family dynamics are contentious, a knowledgeable and objective party can facilitate family meetings and help siblings come to an agreement. Besides serving as an advocate and problem-solver for the aging parent, a care manager can also work with family members to help them explore options and resolve conflict.