It is hard enough to get past your emotions when caring for your parents while trying to make the “right” decisions on their behalf. It becomes more difficult when there is conflict among the adult siblings. How does a family overcome sibling conflict when caring for ageing parents?
Communication is Key
When a crisis hits, siblings should come together and hold a meeting in a neutral location, a place everyone feels welcome. This meeting is most productive when siblings can find common ground in the love they feel for their parent(s) and in their collective desire to provide the best care. The siblings should prepare an agenda for the meeting and each sibling should be encouraged to share his/her opinions.
It is important to realize that some family members might not participate, and that all family members may not be able to take on an equal role in care responsibilities. Each sibling needs to identify what he/she can do to help and then a plan of care can be developed incorporating each family member’s availability. Avoid bringing up past sibling conflicts. Instead, focus the conversation on the situation at hand. It will likely take more than one meeting to come to a complete resolution.
Bring in a Facilitator
When there is tension, an outside, third-party facilitator may be needed to facilitate a family meeting. This provides for a neutral, objective and less emotional opinion. The facilitator can help make sure all siblings are heard during the meeting and can help develop an appropriate care plan that includes input of all parties.
This objective participant can be an independent professional. One example is a care manager who has specific expertise in the care of older adults. This expert is able to provide education and resources, as well as outline the various care options available to the family. They can help the family develop and implement an appropriate and affordable plan of care.
Having a conversation between parents and adult children well in advance of a crisis can help avoid or reduce sibling conflict. When parents are healthy, they should talk to their children about their wishes regarding their future health care. The conversation should include areas of concern such as organ donation, artificial nutrition and hydration, resuscitation and use of artificial ventilators. The talk should also include discussion regarding their living environment as well as their wishes concerning their funerals. All of this information should be put in writing at the time of that talk.
Parents should also discuss with their children how they plan to finance their long-term care. Additionally, legal documents such as a Power of Attorney (for finances) and Enduring Guardian (for their health care decisions) should be executed with a lawyer. This information should be shared with all children to avoid conflict.
When parents share their wishes ahead of time, adult children don’t have to make these health care choices blindly at a time of heightened emotional stress. Instead, the children have a written guide, provided by their parents, that takes the guesswork out of care and end-of-life decision-making.
Author: Debra Feldman, Debra D. Feldman & Associates, Ltd, NorthStar Care & Guidance