How to Handle Sibling Conflict Over Parent Care

Medically Reviewed by Melinda Ratini, MS, DO on August 11, 2021
4 min read

It’s not uncommon for siblings to fight over the care of their elderly parents. Planning for the needs of parents can be complicated, especially when everyone has a different opinion about what to do. The situation gets more complex when the needs of the parents in question seem to be beyond what their children can provide. Clashes may arise and quickly escalate sibling conflicts that may have been on hold for years.

When this happens, there's a need to resolve the conflict. But this wouldn't be possible without finding out the source or cause of the misunderstanding. Here are some common issues that cause family disputes over parent care and how you can resolve them.

Adult siblings don’t hold the same view about caregiving. You may have the impression that a parent is well-taken care of at home, while your sibling feels that institution-based care is the best option. This mostly happens when family members live in different geographical locations and spend different amounts of time with their aging parents.

Solution. You can solve this problem using one of two approaches. The first one is to get an expert assessment of the situation for the best perspective. Consider arranging for a geriatric care manager to visit your parent's home for a safety assessment. You also need to consult your parent's primary healthcare provider about developing physical challenges and deteriorating health conditions. With clarification from professionals, you will be in a better position to define the next step and reduce the looming conflict.

The second option would be to research senior care options once you establish your parent's care needs. Decide if your parents would be better taken care of in a senior living community. If your loved one remains at home, you all should agree on who will provide care and how every one of you will contribute towards that care. Sibling help can range from daily visits to financial assistance. If any of you decide to offer full-time caregiving, ensure you familiarize yourselves with the duties of a senior caregiver to ensure you do the right thing.

Sibling conflict may arise because everyone leaves you to do all the caregiving work alone. This is likely to happen if you live with or near your aging parent or have the closest emotional relationship. When your siblings don’t chip in to offer any assistance, feelings of resentment, isolation, and loneliness can arise, leading to misunderstanding.

Solution. Your siblings may not know how difficult caregiving is for you if you don't tell them about it. Sometimes, unavoidable family dynamics may cause you to become the family caregiver. Talking about it with your siblings may give them an avenue to offer support.

If your siblings live far away and never had a close relationship with you or your parents, they may not provide in-person support. But you can suggest that they provide support in the form of periodic visits, emotional support, finances, meals, and appointment scheduling.

Has one sibling taken over caregiving roles and left you and other family members in the dark? Has their involvement in one way or another limited your access to your elderly loved one? This could be a source of conflict between you and your siblings. If they don’t allow you to be involved in making decisions concerning your parent's care, the situation can create resentment and strife.

Solution. The situation calls for open communication with your parents, siblings, and — if necessary — the authorities. Write or call your siblings and express your feelings, letting them know how you would like to be involved in caregiving. If your relationship with them is strained and they block you from reaching your loved one, consider calling the local Adult Protective Services to intervene. The health and protection of your parents come first.

When siblings join together to become caregivers for their aging parents, they can revert to unhealthy and dysfunctional roles from the past. These buried differences may resurface and hinder the ability of siblings to be amicable about taking care of their elderly loved ones.

Solution. If issues from the past are deep-seated, it helps to have a neutral third party step in and help. Representatives from your local chapter of the Area Agency on Aging, for example, can facilitate mediation. Another source of help is the National Family Caregiver Support Program or a geriatric care manager.

Have an open discussion about the care needs of your parents with your siblings. Each sibling should establish their roles and obligations and be faithful in meeting them. Discuss physical caregiving, finances, visitation frequency, and your parent’s wishes for the sake of planning.