Resources: Tips for Healthy Aging at Hebrew SeniorLife

How to Deal with Family Feuds

Mending Fences for the Sake of Aging Loved-Ones

There are many reasons why siblings become estranged and, as a result, rarely talk to each other if at all. When the needs of an elderly parent start to change and they need special care, it can put added stress on relationships between siblings who are already having trouble getting along.  

Family dynamics can be tricky. Often it is one child who feels responsible for a parent’s well-being and health care.  When one sibling tries to tackle the challenge alone, the burden can prove to be far greater than anticipated and become overwhelming.  

As parents grow older and their needs change, a strong family support system becomes more important than ever. Experts suggest that effective family communication is key to putting together a plan of action for an aging loved-one whose needs for care are growing and becoming more complex. 

Make a call and talk to family members who have drifted away, or write a letter. Make it personal. You may find quite possibly that there never actually were “bridges to burn.” Sometimes siblings just naturally go their separate ways.  When family members lose touch due to a lack of common ground, parents can become that common ground for reuniting. As long as renewed conversation is focused on the elder’s needs, it may be possible to negotiate assistance from a distanced brother, sister or other family member.

There are many ways that family members can share the tasks involved with care of aging loved ones. Dividing and identifying responsibilities may be helpful. If one sibling lives nearby, it will most likely fall on that individual to provide more frequent and hands-on care. Another sibling who lives farther away may agree to take the shift now and again to allowing the primary care-giver some time off.

Those who do not live so close may help financially, with phone calls or finding answers to medical questions. If no child lives nearby, other resources will need to be discussed and agreed on. It is essential to remember that more than likely the tasks and responsibilities will not be divided equally, but each child should be assigned tasks, whether it’s calling mom to see how she’s doing or paying a bill.

In some cases families may need professional help. Consult with experts, such as social workers, lawyers and geriatric care managers.  An objective view, rather than an emotional one, is key when considering the needs of a parent. A mediator can help you sort out differences between family members in the best interest of your love-one. They are able to field concerns, handle strong emotions, objectively evaluate an elders situation and needs, and help point to the most effective solution.

The fact that estranged sisters and brothers can rally over a common cause, is positive, but not necessarily healing. As working together in the best interest of mom or dad may create common ground that renews communication, once the crisis is over, life may go on as normal and siblings part ways again. But, when all is said and done, reuniting as a family for the sake of a higher purpose is something to be proud of.

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