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How to Manage a Difficult Sibling During Your Parent's Move

Learn what to do if you're dealing with a difficult sibling during a parent’s move to senior living. Seniorly has tips on navigating fraught relationships.

By Seniorly Editor · Updated Sep 28, 2021
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Sibling relationships typically last longer than any other relationship you’ll have – longer than your relationship with your partner, parent, friends, and even children. Unfortunately, sibling rivalries don’t always end when you become an adult. One study done at Cornell University found that mothers in their 60s and 70s felt closer to one child than the rest of their children, and most studied adult siblings felt that there was unequal treatment by parents.

A less than stellar relationship with your sibling has many adverse effects, but it can especially make it difficult when it comes to caring for aging parents. It’s important for your parent that siblings work together to ensure your parent gets the best care. However, when it’s time for a parent to move to an assisted living facility, sometimes this brings sibling rivalries to the forefront, and you may find yourself fighting with your sibling through the whole transition.

These types of transitions in the life of a family can be stressful for everyone. If you’re dealing with a difficult sibling as your loved one transitions to a nearby assisting living, we’ve put together some helpful tips and suggestions to help you get your whole family through this process.  

Understand your siblings emotions

When parents are no longer able to live on their own and adult siblings have to take on the roles of decision-makers, it’s common for siblings to agree on the right approach. Watching a parent decline physically or mentally is tough emotionally. Add to that the responsibility of making care and financial decisions, and it can become overwhelming for everyone.

If your sibling is being difficult, try understanding some of the ways they may be coping with all the changes emotionally. Although you haven’t lost a parent, the loss of physical or mental function or the just the idea of helping a parent transition to assisted living may result in feelings of grief. Some of the emotions your sibling may display include:

Denial that your parent needs help, even though you provide evidence.

Anger that lashes out in different directions: outward at siblings for bringing up these issues; inward for not spotting warning signs themselves; at everyone for not being able to care for a parent at home.

Emotional withdrawal may occur when they realize they can’t stop the move. They may refuse to give their support or help to you and your parent as they make the move.

Siblings may offer alternative options to try to minimize the scope of the problem.

Conflict often occurs when one sibling is at a different stage in their grieving process. In most cases, they eventually reach acceptance, and a little patience and understanding of their emotions may make it possible to have a productive conversation and help them begin accepting your parent’s move.

Be prepared to address common areas of disagreement

When your parent is preparing to move into assisting living, there are several common areas where siblings often disagree. Being prepared to address these things can help you diffuse conflict and come to an agreement to make the move smoother for everyone.

Disagreements about your parent’s needs – Siblings often disagree about a parent’s needs, particularly when one sibling lives closer to the parent and another is far away. While you may be the one seeing your parent’s condition up close, your sibling may just be seeing their smiling face on Facetime or Skype not realizing that they’ve declined. You can’t wait for them to come around or your parent could be in danger, but pressing the issue can create a strain on your relationship with your brother or sister. Having an expert assessment done on your parent’s needs may help you address this problem.

Feeling excluded – If you’ve been the one dealing with a lot of the decision making and caregiving responsibilities for your parent, your sibling could feel excluded. Feeling like they have no control may make them balk at the decision to move your loved one to an assisted living community. Remember, a power struggle between you and your sibling will not help your parent: sometimes you simply have to let comments float by and refuse to engage. Work to communicate with your family members as much as possible, but remember, the needs of your parent take priority.

Worry about cost – In some cases, worry about the cost could be the reason your brother or sister is being troublesome. Assisting living isn’t covered by Medicare and statistics show that less than 3% of seniors have long-term care insurance. Putting together the funds needed to pay for senior living for your parent may require selling their home, converting a life insurance policy, pulling from savings, or perhaps family contributions. When money is involved, feelings can be hurt easily.

When it’s time to get outside help

With some patience, understanding, and good communication, you may be able to work through the conflict with your sibling surrounding your parent’s move. However, sometimes you may need some outside help to deal with a difficult family member. When you aren’t agreeing on the care of your loved one, you may want to try one of these options.

Geriatric care manager – If you’re dealing with an ugly scene, consider hiring a geriatric care manager, a third party who isn’t emotionally involved. Geriatric care managers can assess the level of care your loved one needs, their living situation, and the needs of your family, helping you plan and supervise your loved one’s care.

Family counseling – Improving your sibling relationships for the sake of your parents is a good step, and family counseling can help. Talking with a counselor who can guide your conversation and keep things civil can make it easier to work through the challenges that come with caring for an aging parent.

Elder care mediation – Sometimes family relationships are beyond the help of family counseling, which is where elder care mediation can help. Mediators are trained to deal with family disputes and may prove helpful if your sibling is causing significant conflict throughout your parent’s move to assisted living.  

Navigating sibling relationships can be tricky in the best of times, and they may become more strained as you work to make financial and care decisions for a parent. If you do have trouble with a brother or sister as you try to move your parent, do everything you can to preserve that relationship while remembering that your parent’s health and well-being must come first. Don’t be afraid to turn to outside help if that’s what it takes to ensure your senior loved one gets the best possible care.

This piece is part of our Healthy Aging Handbook, read the next one to learn more about helping aging parents: Tips on Making the Transition to Assisted Living Easier
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