5 tips to minimize family conflict while caring for an aging loved one

By Valerie
May 28, 2015


In my last column, I discussed the common pitfalls of family dynamics and conflict. How can we “share the care” without creating unnecessary conflict?

It all comes down to family members being able to make key decisions together; reaching consensus on dividing the caregiving tasks and how well they work as a team.
Here are five tips to minimize family conflict when caring for aging relatives:

Stay on Equal Footing: Siblings who are the primary caregiver for their parents often become the “experts” and this can feel intimidating for long distance siblings or for those working full time or raising a family. This lack of confidence may come across as criticism simply because that sibling just “doesn’t know”. The primary caregiver can be so used to “doing it all”; they may have a difficult time letting go of the reins. Being honest about what each sibling needs and inviting each other into a dialogue around problem solving puts everyone on the level ground.

Be Careful How Competent You Are: Caregivers need to be very competent when it comes to caring for elderly parents. Sometimes, siblings don’t realize the primary caregiver needs a break because they make it look so easy. Be open and willing to share your feelings of burnout and ask for help. And siblings, always assume that the primary caregiver needs a break!

Give Yourself Extra Time: One of the best way out-of-town siblings can help is to come and help in person. There can be a lot to talk about, so prepare to come a little earlier so the primary caregiver doesn’t feel rushed or stressed about getting all the information down. Being specific about the type of help that is needed is also very helpful and primary caregivers should consider writing a detailed list.
Don’t Forget About Each Other: Take time to spend time with your brother or sister; nurture the bond and relationship you have. Keep the lines of communication open not just as it concerns parents but with your own lives. Your relationship with your sibling will continue long after your parents have died and it’s important to maintain those family ties.

Know what you want: If you’re the main caregiver, be clear. Do you want a sibling to relieve you at some point? Do you want whoever can afford it to hire someone to come in and help you? Or do you actually want to be in charge of everything, but want to be acknowledged and thanked?

Share financials: Caregivers who are given financial authority should share details about expenses with the others on the care team, even when not asked. Being transparent helps to build trust.
Be part of the solution: If you find yourself in conflict with a family member, step back and get some perspective. Consider your role in the conflict, and ask yourself if you’re acting out an old family role or resentment. Avoid talking when angry and seek support and insight.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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