How to talk to siblings about an aging parent’s care

The only thing potentially more difficult than caring for parents as they age is discussing their care with the family. Facing the realization that the health or abilities of your parent is declining – along with a myriad of family dynamics paired with feelings of guilt and worry – can be a challenge.

In this helpful video, Melanie Bedell, Vice President of Sales at Atria, provides insight on how family dynamics may play a role in your parent’s care, and shares tips to make the discussion with your family go well.

In the eight steps below, find tips and techniques to thoughtfully approach the conversation about your parent’s care with your siblings.

8 steps to discuss an aging parent’s care with siblings

 

  1. Plan a meeting
  2. Ask your parent what they want
  3. Share helpful info and examples
  4. Communicate openly
  5. Listen openly
  6. Resist counterproductive behavior
  7. Ask for help and manage expectations
  8. Accept and forgive

Plan a meeting

Your family may be scattered across the globe, making spur-of-the-moment meetings seemingly impossible. Even if your siblings live relatively close, obligations of daily life can still be an obstacle, especially for those who are caring for children of their own.

“Everyone’s life is very busy, but nothing is more important than discussing your parent’s care – together,” said Bedell. “Because things don’t get easier as parents get older, they’re going to get harder.”

When and where convenient for all, schedule a face-to-face meeting to discuss care for your parent. The best time may be around the holidays or other occasions when the family typically comes together. If you have family who lives somewhere far away from your parent or you’re unable to arrange a time or place that works for everyone, consider setting up a video call through services like Zoom®, Skype or FaceTime®.

Don’t blindside anyone. Let everyone know the topic at hand, and try to include everyone in the discussion. Also, keep in mind that this should be the first of many meetings to come. Constant communication is key.

Ask your parent what they want

While alone with your mother or father, ask what he or she actually wants delicately but directly. Your parent deserves to be included in any decision that affects their life. Again, manage your expectations and be realistic. They may be saddened or resistant at the idea. Conversely, your parent may be more perceptive than you assumed.

“They may be saddened, but they may also be relieved,” said Bedell.

Let your parent’s response help influence and further guide your next steps.

Share helpful info and examples

If you are the primary caregiver or the most familiar with your elderly parent’s needs, be prepared to share or discuss challenges you are experiencing. Begin documenting incidents or things that concern you. If possible, plan to meet somewhere near your parent’s home so your siblings can visit and see things for themselves. Encourage them to spend a day with your parent and share their experiences.

It’s also important to share helpful info and examples of how caregiving may be affecting you. Has parent care caused you to miss work? Are you missing out on time with your own children and grandchildren? Are you experiencing adverse effects on your mental and physical health?

Communicate openly

Begin honest and respectful communication by leading by example. Express yourself clearly and try to stick to the facts. Write down your talking points to stay on track during the discussion.

While discussing your parent’s needs is understandably emotional, use the initial part of the discussion to build support around the main topic: the health, happiness and safety of the parent you love.

“It might get emotional at times, but reference back to why you’re all together to begin with: You want the best for your parent,” said Bedell.

Listen openly

This next tip is important: Invite your siblings to express their thoughts and listen without interrupting. Give everyone the opportunity to voice their emotions without immediately siding with them or invalidating how they feel.

By inviting input from your siblings, you show that their opinion is important. Ask open-ended questions at the end of the conversation: “What do you think is the best course of action?” or “How do you think we can best help Mom or Dad?” Listen to their responses, even if they have a radically different solution than your own.

Resist counterproductive behavior

There’s no guaranteed method on how to stop family disputes over aging parents, and that’s perfectly normal – it’s common for relatives to have disagreements.

Depending on the dynamics of your family, it may be easy to fall victim to finger-pointing, arguing and passive-aggressiveness, especially when triggered. Try to resist the temptation to fall into counterproductive behaviors by focusing on the issue, not the person.

Always assume the best intent. Your siblings may not align or agree on one single idea or care solution right away.

It’s okay.

Give everyone, and yourself, a chance to digest the information before reacting hastily. Remember, everyone has the same goal: the health and happiness of your parent.

Ask for help and manage expectations

Asking for help is hard, but you wouldn’t be here unless it was necessary. As the main caregiver, you must vocalize your need for support. Now is not the time to drop hints or mince words. How can siblings help with an aging parent? Be direct. Be clear about what you need. Most of all, be prepared. Write down tasks to delegate while managing your expectations and being realistic.

If a sibling lives in a different time zone, that person won’t be best for hands-on tasks, but they could provide relief by paying someone to do the jobs instead. If a sibling has a small child, they may have limited availability, but they could occasionally check in and visit. The sibling with poor financial habits should not handle money, but they may be the perfect person to keep your parent company when you need a break.

Don’t limit support to only physical activities. Include emotional support as well. How will you all lean on one another through difficult moments? While it may be too early to mention family therapy during the initial meeting, think about counseling down the road if necessary. Connecting with a geriatric care manager to discuss your unique situation is also an option to consider.

Accept and forgive

Alas, we cannot be all things to all people and the same holds true for our siblings. Accept your siblings for the help they are willing and capable of offering and forgive them for the support they cannot or will not provide.

Also, remain optimistic and do not shut down after the first sign of resistance. Give your siblings time to realize how they are capable of helping or contributing – even if it is something different than what you originally planned.

“Talking about your parent’s care can be challenging,” Bedell said. “But with a little bit of planning and patience, and open lines of communication, that challenge can be overcome.”

Our Guide on How to Talk to Your Siblings (PDF)

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