By Dr. Ken Druck
Atop the list of challenges and opportunities that arise as our parents get older is the relationship between our siblings and ourselves. If and when we become caregivers, or more involved in the lives of our aging parents, age-old sibling rivalries, conflicts, and warlike disputes can resurface. And then what?
Sometimes these battles over Mom and Dad’s care, love, attention, and favor can be extremely unsettling to us, our parents, and our own families at a time when we can least afford them. Here are a few things we can do to end these sibling skirmishes, catfights, and pissing contests before they become outright wars.
- Acknowledge the problem. Take ownership of the issue that may now be sitting squarely in the center of your relationship with your brothers and sisters, and admit that it’s a good place to start. This is where motivation to do something to prevent an escalation into a full family drama begins.
- Identify the source of the problem as best as you can. Is it jealousy, anger, outrage, frustration, or a lack of willingness or ability to work with you on behalf of your aging parents? Or is it something else?
- Make a plan. This might mean making time for a well-thought-out heart-to-heart talk, which can lead to a simple apology; scheduling time with a family therapist, coach, or counselor; sharing this article or my Raising an Aging Parent book with your siblings; or something else.
- Get yourself in game shape to effectively confront the problem. Set the tone for reconciliation with your siblings by calming and centering yourself, getting your talking points clear, showing respect in the way you talk to them, framing the situation with a non-blaming statement of positive intention to “work things out” and “get on the same page with respect to Mom and Dad,” and listening attentively to them.
- Continue to work on the solution side, and stop feeding the problem. Continue to take steps to reverse the direction of the issue from “getting worse” to “getting better.”
The challenges involved in raising aging parents are considerable. So are the opportunities for family peace and harmony. The benefits to you, your siblings, and your parents in getting ahead of the pain curve by communicating openly, respectfully, and compassionately (just the way you’d like to be spoken to) cannot be overestimated. Where irreparable damage has been done between siblings, we can step back from saying or doing anything that exacerbates the problem, try to find forgiveness and do our best to make peace with a bad situation.
Our relationships with our brothers and sisters are the longest in our lives and can be some of the most meaningful if and when we invest quality time, find common ground, rise above lingering conflicts, listen attentively, show empathy, and put our parents’ well-being above our own issues with our siblings.
First published on Medium.