Remember the old family feuds over who got the bigger piece of cake or who got to play with the Legos? Ah, brother-sister love.
The stakes are higher when it comes to disagreements over caring for aging parents.
Can John boss Jane around and demand she spend a week with mom after her knee surgery? Can he tell her she should cancel a trip with her own kids because he wants her to hang out with their sick dad instead?
Only one in 10 caregivers say family members share responsibility equally and without conflict, according to a study by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving.
How can you and your siblings do better?
Put a parent’s wishes first. Unless mom suffers from dementia, let her decide, says Nashua, N.H., psychologist Carl Hindy, co-author of If This Is Love, Why Do I Feel So Insecure? “It’s not a democracy where they all get a vote. It’s up to her! If the parent is competent, the parent’s wishes should be paramount.”
Compromise and try to get along with your brothers and sisters. Otherwise, your parent pays the price. “Not only is she trying to face her own medical issues, but now she has to take care of her kids, too,” says Hindy. “She has to worry about whether she seems to be siding with one or the other, or coming between them. For most parents that’s the last thing they’d want. They want their children to be close and support one another.”
Don’t be bossy. “Suggest rather than direct,” says Beverly Hills, Calif., psychotherapist Fran Walfish, author of The Self-Aware Parent. “How would this feel to you? Would that work?’ Use questions to give the person a sense they have a voice.” Be flexible, she says. “Can we work this out where I really want to give a week, but that week won’t work so well for me?”
Make other siblings feel a plan is their idea. “It has to be presented with a question,” says Walfish. “‘What’s your thought about what would work for you?’ “They have to feel you’re accommodating them – their schedule and their needs.”
Come up with a backup plan. “You cannot always depend on the siblings,” says Walfish. For ideas on hiring help, visit sites such as Eldercare Locator.
Don’t pre-judge a sibling. “Things can quickly go in familiar old directions,” says Hindy. “One is expected to be ‘controlling,’ another ‘selfish,’ another ‘doesn’t listen,’ etc.”
Communicate as a group. Use technology to talk about important issues, especially if a parent is no longer mentally competent. “Most cell phones can add additional parties to a call, and people can Skype together, or interact in real time with text messaging or Facebook private messages,” says Hindy. “So let’s try to do that, rather than play the old game of ‘telephone’ where messages get distorted. And they’re even more prone to distortion when there’s a lot of emotional involved.”
Plan regular meetings. Hindy suggests three agenda items: medical status, the parent’s needs and wishes, and the family’s needs and wishes. “Let’s all acknowledge that each of these categories is legitimate and important — but they’re not the same,” he says. “If we at least categorize our discussions in these three compartments, and I understand that this is neater in the abstract than in reality, we can be more appropriately sensitive to everyone’s needs and wishes. If we are acknowledging them as our needs and wishes, rather than interjecting it as a medical idea or ‘for mother’s good,’ there will be more understanding — better communication, less tension and arguing.”
Do the right thing. That may mean you spend more than your fair share of time with your aging parent. Lucky you! “Everybody has to figure out what works for them and their own conscience,” says Walfish. “Am I left with a feeling of regret, or did I do as much as I could?”
What family feuds? Here’s to brother-sister love. Family.lifegoesstrong.com