Tips for starting a conversation with siblings about your aging parents’ need for care

April 17, 2018

Whether you have one sibling, or many, adult children often find themselves at odds over what to do when parents show signs of needing help. Conflicts can arise because one or more sibling may be unaware of the parents’ decline. Other conflicts arise when siblings disagree on the type of help needed. If these or other conflict-ridden scenarios are occurring within your sibling relationships, here are a few tips that may help you get started on the road to a workable solution that everyone can agree on:

1. Invite siblings to help develop a plan for your parents’ needs as they age.

Approaching your siblings with the request to “develop a plan” sends a signal that you are providing a forum for everyone to air their opinions and concerns. And since a “plan” is seen by most as a blueprint for future action, this approach can put siblings at ease by communicating that no immediate action may be needed. At this point, you simply want to bring everyone to the table for a discussion. Everyone means all siblings, and in-laws, if desired. Be sure to conference call or Skype in siblings who do not live in the same area to make sure everyone is provided the opportunity to contribute to the plan. This meeting, however, should not include the parents.

2. Establish the current condition of your parents’ aging process.

If you are the in-town sibling that visits the parent or parents frequently, you will likely be more up-to-date on their aging condition than siblings who live far away. Is Mom losing weight? Is Dad becoming more and more forgetful? Are they forgetting to take medications? One way to establish these conditions is by keeping a journal of problematic events that you can later present to siblings for review. Another is through medical reports or notes from conversations with doctors. Visible proof will help convince them. Is their checkbook a mess? Can you produce piles of unopened mail? Is the house unclean and in disrepair? Come to the meeting with a list of problems and any photos and documentation you can provide that will help convince them that your parents need assistance.

3. Invite other siblings to comment about the parents’ condition.

Once you present your case about their condition, ask if others have noticed changes as well. Remind everyone that this is the time to set rivalries and old jealousies aside and focus on what is needed for the parents. Some siblings may not believe the parents have declined. They may need to be invited for a weekend visit at the parents’ house and see for themselves. Once everyone provides input on the parents’ condition, you can move forward to creating a list of possible solutions.

4. Create a list of action items and make assignments

If you can get agreement on a need for some type of action, begin to solicit input on possible solutions. Create a list and ask each sibling to investigate at least one item. Perhaps one will look into doctors and make appointments. Another may look into home help services. Still another may investigate care communities. Finally, someone needs to look into the parents’ finances to determine what kind of help they can afford. Cost will be a determining factor in coming up with a solution, so it’s important to collect information about the cost of care and the parents’ ability to pay as soon as possible.

5. Agree to meet again to discuss findings.

Set a specific day and time for your next meeting. This will underscore the need for everyone to complete their assignments in a timely manner. End the meeting by reinforcing the idea that the plan developed will need to have the parents’ best interests in mind. If you find one or more siblings cannot come to agree with the others, add their objections as an additional topic for the next meeting. As more information comes forward about the parents’ condition and possible solutions, this may help the hold-outs come into agreement with everyone else.

6. Be patient and stay focused on the parents’ well-being.

Even the most divisive conversations among siblings can often be resolved if people strive to keep anger out of the process. The most potent force in bringing everyone to the table is a clear recognition of the fact that the parents need help. Laying good groundwork in this area can often reap a harvest of cooperation among siblings. And if you continue to remind everyone of the goal of doing what’s best for Mom and Dad, this will also further the process of agreement.

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