Family/Sibling Friction

Even families that have always gotten along can spar under the stress of caring for a parent or other family member. Multiple decision makers and personalities, differing views, economic and geographic disparities (who pays more or less, who does what), old family dynamics, complex role reversals, and money issues can unravel relationships.


Some families use elder mediation to keep the peace and work together effectively. A conflict resolution professional, typically an attorney or therapist, meets with adult siblings and, when possible, their parents, to problem-solve issues. Mediation is confidential and non-binding; decisions are made by consensus. Often experts, such as financial planners, an eldercare lawyer or aging life care specialist also attend mediation.

Issues to Consider


Listen to everyone’s point of view and ask why they feel the way they do. Treat them with respect. If you’re going to lose your cool, take a break. Be careful what you say. Ill will can impact sibling relationships after your parents are gone.

Figure out how you will discuss issues. Is there a time when you will all be together? Second best might be a conference call via phone, Skype, FaceTime or Google Hangout. Make sure to follow up on issues and areas of conflict that arise.

First ask your parents what they want and, then discuss whether it’s realistic and in their best interests. (If they have dementia or other cognitive impairment, you may not be able to have this discussion.) Do you even know where they want to live, their end of life wishes or the disposition of their house? Talk to them about what’s important while they are still able.

Help from the family.

When one sibling is the primary caregiver, decide how others can pitch in. Can an out-of-town sister stay with your parent so another sibling can get away, or can Mom come to you?

Appeal to family members’ strengths and give them options. If they’re good with numbers, will they handle Mom’s bills or meet with her financial planner? If they live nearby, can they visit a couple of adult day care programs, interview caregivers or take Dad to the doctor? If one sibling has done well financially, can she pay more for caregiving, let’s say, or for a house cleaner? A family member who is tech-savvy could set up a family website, show others how to log onto an already established care coordination site (like Lotsahelpinghands) or explore technology for your parent.