Caregiving Battles: Sibling Relationships


By Pamela D Wilson MS, BS/BA, CSA, NCG

How many of you, when young, vied for the attention of your parents? How many of you today, feel that your parents have “favorites” among their children. These early differences between children and perceptions of parental favorites carry on in later life when parents need the support of adult children in caregiving situations.

Is it possible to put aside childhood—or even adult differences—to provide care for parents? It is possible to set aside past hurts to forgive in order to support end of life family relationships with parents?

Relationships are complicated matters, especially relationships between adult children and parents that may have gone astray over the years without the opportunity for mending. After children leave the parental home and establish their own lives, there may be little or limited contact. This contact may arise during the holidays, at marriage celebrations, or at funerals. Most family members can “make nice” for limited periods of time during gatherings.

But what happens when a parent becomes older, frail, and ill and requires ongoing care? How then do adult children with strong opinions and dislikes come together for the benefit of the parent?

Holding a family meeting in the format of a business meeting is one option. Setting an agenda, sending invitations and holding the meeting at a professional location like a library meeting room or an office conference room sets the stage for a meeting that focuses on care of a parent or a loved one.

Clear boundaries must be established that eliminate discussion of interpersonal issues and childhood wounds. If these are significant issues, a separate family counseling meeting may be offered for those wishing to participate.

Having an independent group leader or moderator—sometimes a counselor, church pastor, mediator or other uninvolved person like a care navigator—supports management of the agenda so that attendees stay on target focusing on the objectives of the meeting. All attendees are given the opportunity to express concerns and to ask questions.

The group leader then supports a review of options and ideas to arrive at potential plans of action or the consequences of non-action. The meeting concludes with attendees identifying their commitment, level and methods of participation or an inability or unwillingness to participate. The meeting is summarized and next steps are identified as well as a mechanism for participant follow up.

While this may seem like an impersonal method of identifying participation levels between adult children and parents— when significant dysfunctional relationships exist—it is important to separate fact from emotion. By focusing on the factual care needs of parents, adult children may be able to maintain distance from the past emotional hurts of sibling relationships to acknowledge and agree upon participation in aspects of care and caregiving for the benefit of a parent or parents.

©2014 Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved.

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