Do you have suggestions for preventing conflicts and misunderstandings among siblings over the care of their ageing parents? I’ve been hearing horror stories about what can happen when elderly people can no longer care for themselves and need the support of their grown children. My mum and dad are nearing that stage in their lives, and I’d like to do everything I can to preserve family harmony and promote cooperation among my siblings. Any ideas?

No matter how you and your siblings and the other family members get along, strive for honest, ongoing communication. If you want high quality care for your ageing parents it’s crucial to get the cooperation and support of the entire family. This will call for joint meetings, followed by frequent one-on-one conversations. We suggest you work within the following guidelines:

Plan a family meeting

Use this occasion to evaluate your parents’ situation and air any concerns. You may want to prepare by consulting community professionals first. By all means include your parents in the meeting, and if siblings live far apart, consider using phones on speaker, three-way calling or video conference technology so you can all get the chance to share your perspective. Prepare a brief agenda and don’t expect to resolve every problem or disagreement the first time you get together. Trying to tackle too many items at once will cause unnecessary fatigue and irritation.

Invite a third party

At times the situation may call for loving confrontation. This should take place in a safe forum, preferably in the presence of a third party who has no investment in the outcome. For example, your pastor may be willing to sit in quietly as a witness or moderator. In this role he can reinforce honesty and dignity as well as discourage any unhealthy patterns of family dysfunction. Remind each other that you are together to discuss what is best for your mum and dad, not to argue.

Seek solutions

As you begin, you may want to verbalise that feelings of vulnerability or fear are normal with change. Throughout the dialogue, make a sincere attempt to move toward workable arrangements for each family member. Allow siblings to express any frustrations or grievances as long as they relate to the central purpose of the meeting – that is, to discuss your parents’ care.

Show respect

Emphasise the importance of respecting each other’s opinions. No one should be put down for having a different opinion than anyone else. For instance, if a sibling is vocal about wanting mum or dad to receive medical treatment in the hospital rather than hospice care at home, it’s important to talk through the issues, including your parents’ wishes. Try to see things through other people’s eyes even when you can’t count on them to see through your eyes. Speak calmly to prevent the discussion from getting overheated or out of control.

Pray for wisdom

Remember to pray for God’s wisdom and peace to superintend each meeting or discussion. If you are able to pray together, do it often. Prayer unites hearts and minds in a common goal. If this isn’t possible, you can always pray on your own. Look for God’s light in the midst of difficult family dynamics, knowing that the Lord will make a way. Keep a humble, prayerful attitude in every discussion. Remember, your parents’ welfare is at stake.

Follow up

Set a date for follow-up meetings at regular intervals to reassess the results of your discussions. If there is continuing conflict, seek the help of a professionally trained facilitator through Carers Australia. If you come up against a wall of resistance from a sibling, cousin, aunt, uncle, spouse, or parent who refuses to lend a hand in the care-giving process, do your best to stay calm. Remind your relatives that you are all in this together and that you need their assistance in order to do a good job.

© 2002 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Used with permission. Adapted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers.

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