When Parental Care Becomes Family Feud
Familial infighting is nothing new. We experience it as a child, vying for the last piece of cake or the biggest slice of pizza. We compete with siblings for the lion’s share of mom or dad’s attention, and in the case of step-siblings, navigate a whole gamut of blended family complications. It is no wonder that families often disagree when it comes to caring for an aging parent.
The good news is there are many resources available to help families manage this phase of life. From books to consultants to tried and true best practices, the information below will help get you and your family started on a peaceful path in supporting aging parents.
Our population is tipping into their senior years faster than ever before. Baby Boomers, the second largest generation, born between 1946-1964, are rapidly flooding society with senior citizens. The older Boomers are well into their 70s today and all of the youngest Boomers will have reached the age of 65 by 2030. This aging of America elevates the need for caregiving of aging individuals like never before (U.S. Census Bureau, 2022).
Here is where the trouble begins. Folks fortunate enough to have multiple offspring with concerned opinions on their wellbeing may be surprised to find themselves the center of what can end up as heated debates or full-on family feuds. Childhood rivalries and resentments are reborn in the context of caring for mom and dad. The emotions are real, the opinions are strong, and the viewpoints are varied. How are well-intentioned but stubborn family members supposed to come to an agreement on things as important as where will mom live? Who will be the primary caregiver now that dad has dementia? When is the right time to provide assisted living arrangements?
When a family discussion veers off track and emotions are elevated, take a moment to remember why you are there, for the best care of the parent(s). Recognize old emotions or resentments for what they are, old, and move past them. Strive to view each other as the adults you have become. With a fresh approach, focus on each other’s strengths and capabilities.
Have a meeting and make a plan. A family meeting should involve any medical assessments on the parent(s) to clearly identify physical or cognitive limitations and the progression of any health issues. This step will help identify necessary accommodations and support and allow for future planning. If an agreement is not readily available on who will do what or strong differing opinions exist concerning the overall plan, consider leveraging an outside expert like CarePatrol.
Bringing in an outside mediator ensures the focus stays on Mom and Dad. This person could be a social worker, a family counselor or someone trusted outside of the immediate family such as a member of the church or a close friend or neighbor.
Even more definitive are advance directives and power of attorney documents. These are valuable tools to help guide families in decision-making. Ideally, these are prepared before there is a need and the family can reference the documents to guide care decisions as pre-defined by the parent. We gave a good overview of these documents in a recent blog post. Having these documents removes some of the decision-making and ensures access to important accounts and information such as health care decision making, and financial accounts should a parent become disabled.
Communication is key, for all parties. Never assume someone is “fine” with how things are going. Check-in frequently! If you are the one doing the most caregiving, ask for the help you need. If you want to be more involved, offer tangible ways you can be supportive. Bills need to be paid, laundry and grocery shopping need to be done, social and emotional support is required, and medical appointments and coordination must be managed. There’s more than enough to do and one person can’t be expected to shoulder it all.
When necessary, use outside support! Everything from meal delivery, grocery delivery, cleaning support, transportation, virtual health visits, and even social interactions can be outsourced! Many services exist through community-based senior centers. Modern services like Uber or Lyft, GrubHub, restaurant delivery services, and meal preparation and delivery can be used to give caregivers a break. Some seniors will qualify for programs like Meals on Wheels.
Take advantage of available technology. Apps like SignUpGenius or CaringBridge help organize support including meals or visits. Apps exist for medication management and reminders, and virtual family visits. Many helpful technologies exist for aging well and keeping family members on the same page. Here is a recent blog that highlights solutions that may be useful for families caring for seniors.
Additionally, in-home care, or assisted living facilities can take on most if not all of the day-to-day care provision. Utilize extended networks of friends and family to check in on seniors as well as caregivers to make sure everyone is staying well and staying connected. Remember to consider the best options for the parent across care, emotional support, health, and financial management, and build a plan that works for you and your family, together.
The ElderCare Ready Book by Start Furman, Esq.
Retooling for an Aging America
They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy by Dr. Francine Russo
Adult Children of Aging Parents
Toll-free 1-877-599-ACAP (1-877-599-2227)
Family Caregiver Alliance
National Center on Caregiving
(415) 434-3388 | (800) 445-8106
FCA CareNav: https://fca.cacrc.org/login
Caregiving with Your Siblings - Family Caregiver Alliance. (2014).
PBS NewsHour. (2014, November 28). A sibling’s guide to caring for aging parents.
U.S. Census Bureau. (2022, February 25). 2020 Census Will Help Policymakers Prepare for the Incoming Wave of Aging Boomers. Census.gov.