When Siblings Disagree: Bringing Families Together

There’s a new dynamic affecting families across the globe, and it is not one often prepared for. With people living longer, adult children are finding themselves in a tough place—caring for their aging parents. In a perfect world, aging parents would have their wishes and future care lined out so everyone knows how issues will be handled in advance. That’s rarely the case, though, leaving children to make difficult decisions.

Every person struggles in this position, but when multiple children are involved and differing views are expressed, serious family conflict can occur. This makes the entire situation harder to handle. When siblings come together to discuss their aging parents’ care, it is important that everyone feels their voice and opinion is heard and valued. Here are some ways to ensure everyone who comes to the table can express their views and feel respected.

Hold a family meeting. This is the first step in discussing any major decision. There are several things that must be discussed when talking about elder care, from finances to medical issues. Bringing all the siblings together at one time is important for every opinion to be heard. No matter what the family dynamic is, try to implement these strategies for the most effective meeting.

  • Hold the meeting in a neutral zone – Gather in a place where everyone feels comfortable and relaxed.
  • Have a clear agenda – Know exactly what needs to be discussed and in what order.
  • Establish guidelines – Set clear rules on how everyone is to be treated. No opinion is wrong, nor can you always change a persons’ feelings. You can, however, show respect and tact.
  • Let everyone talk – Give everyone the chance to say their piece. Do not interrupt or ridicule someone’s thoughts or opinions. There are no wrong or right feelings during times like these.
  • Stay focused – Remind everyone this is about their parent, not them. Restate the parent’s wishes, if they’ve been made known before. Leave old hurts and scars at the door. Past sibling disputes have no place in the room.
  • Recap what was discussed – At the end of the meeting, reiterate what was talked about and decided. Make sure everyone has a clear understanding of what the next steps are.

Show compassion and understanding. This is a difficult time for everyone, so try to be understanding of what other siblings might be feeling. An array of emotions can be felt during a stressful time like this. Realize hurtful things said might just be a response from the grief, anger or confusion they might be dealing with. Step back, reevaluate and leave the past where it belongs. Focus on the here and now.

Bring in outside help, if necessary. If a family is unable to make headway in their meetings, bringing in a third party can be beneficial. Whether it be the parents’ lawyer, a religious official or a care advisor, having someone to mediate, ask questions and bring up valid points can add a unique perspective on the situation as a whole.

While some families can sort out their disagreements, many cannot. Watching our parents grow old is one of the most difficult things in life, and every child will react in a different way. When you use these constructive methods, there’s a better chance of the family coming together in agreement. While not everyone will be happy with the results, they should be able to understand why the decision was made and what the next steps will be.