Sibling Relationships and Older Parents

As adult children age many unresolved conflicts are swept under the carpet and avoided.  Often with parents as buffers, and contact limited, relationships remain stable. All this can change when adult children must share the task of caring for an aging parent. When the focus becomes their own unresolved conflicts, this can interfere with the task at hand and further destroy family relationships.


Here are a few tips that can help resolve these pitfalls:

  1. Focus on parent’s needs –- If siblings are spending time and energy arguing with one another it takes away the focus from the aging parent.  Unresolved issues that exist can be reduced by making parent’s needs a priority.  If siblings disagree then an evaluation and plan by an objective third party can be very instrumental. An Aging Life Care Manager can assist (
  2. Avoid childhood roles — Reliving past roles that siblings played in their childhood can often lead to competing issues including favoritism, controlling behavior, and decision making. Identifying childhood reactions so siblings can move forward as adults can make a difference. Identifying may not be enough.  The engagement of a licensed mental health professional with backgrounds in Marriage, Family, Clinical Social Work or Aging Life Care, who is experienced in dealing with family conflict, as it relates to aging, can assist.
  3. Put gender stereotypes aside — The role that men and women play in both the workplace and family has changed dramatically in the last generations. By eliminating these stenotypes and focusing on each sibling’s specific situation and attributes can lead to better outcomes when it involves caring for an aging parent.
  4. Avoid keeping score — Siblings often differ in geographic distances, financial situation, personality, relationships with parents, outside responsibilities, and other factors. Any of these inequalities, once recognized, can lead to a more efficient care plan for parents and reduce conflict. Regular family communication or the formal use of a family therapist can help set up a realistic distribution of tasks.
  5. Acknowledge another — Dealing with the complex issues associated with aging is often stressful for all involved. This is particularly true when parents are resistant, difficult, or their feelings are ambivalent.  Siblings can recognize that there might not be anyone more able to understand the situation than themselves. Being able to vent and express frustrations can make a difference.  A counselor or other mental health professional can be that ear if more support is needed. Hiring an Aging Life Care Manager to share the burden and understand the challenges can make all the difference.
  6. You may not be able to do it alone — Families are different. For those that need a more formal process, elder mediation can assist. In addition to the aforementioned issues, hiring an elder mediator to resolve conflicts involving potential neglect, undue influence, medical treatment, trust, and inheritance issues can be vital in not only resolving family issues but avoid costly and stressful legal proceedings.

About the Author: 

Bunni Dybnis, MA, MFT, CMC, President of Aging Life Matters, has over 30 years’ experience as Aging Life Care Manager, Family Therapist, and trained mediator working exclusively with aging adults and their families. She is a proud Fellow in the Leadership Academy of the Aging Life Care Association.  She has served on the National Board and Western Board of ALCA, holding several leadership roles including past president of the Western Regional Chapter. Contact her on LinkedIn or at or at bdybnis

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