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When caregiving strains the relationship between siblings

About the challenges and emotional conflicts that can arise when siblings take care of their sick parents. Points of conflict such as the distribution of responsibilities, decisions about living situations, medical decisions, and handling of finances can lead to deep rifts in the relationship.

When my mother fell ill, my brother and I had a close relationship. However, a dispute over the choice of her rehabilitation clinic brought the proverbial straw that broke the camel's back. My brother's last words before our mother's hospital room were: 'You come to my city and think you know everything!'

After that, he didn't speak to me anymore. For a long time, our communication was limited to formal emails. Even today, I am annoyed by this unnecessary drama. What a bad blood!

Unfortunately, I have seen that many friends and relatives have also fallen out with their siblings. Caregiving can trigger enormous friction. (Of course, it can also bring families closer together.)

It can lead to resentments ('Why do I have to do everything?', 'What about my time?'), guilt feelings ('I'm not doing enough or neglecting my own family'), hurt feelings ('I'm being excluded or criticized for my caregiving method'), or even open disputes.

Caring for parents can quickly lead siblings back into old family patterns: for example, 'the egoist', 'the control freak', 'the miser', 'the know-it-all', or 'the favorite'.

It is mentally and physically exhausting to see a parent decline. Emotions run high, especially in families that are not used to working together or are not close from the outset.


In caregiving, there are countless opportunities for conflicts and discord! The six main areas of sibling disputes include:

1. Responsibilities.Who devotes how much time to the parents, including visits, and who does not? Disagreement also arises from unequal distribution of work or the expectation that another sibling will 'handle' the situation. In my experience, daughters often take on the most responsibility, regardless of their place of residence. Feelings of being overwhelmed, lack of support, and lack of recognition. Or, on the contrary, the feeling of being excluded.

2. Living situation and accommodation.Are the parents' living situation practical and safe? Are there too many steps? Do they have a support system nearby? Should they stay at home or move, and if so, where? Should they live with or near a child, in a senior residence, or elsewhere?

3. Medical decisions, including end-of-life.Who makes them when the parents cannot? Should a second opinion be sought?

4. Independence.What can they do safely on their own and what not? For example, should they still drive or live alone?

5. Money.How is it spent, and who contributes (or not) when needed? If a parent can no longer manage their finances, which sibling takes over? Are they transparent and trustworthy? Does one child inherit more than another?

6. Assets and possessions.Who gets what after the parents' death? What if two or more siblings want the same artwork or piece of furniture?

Do any of these points apply to you? If so, it is easy to become both angry and hurt. But before you react, try these tips that I have learned from personal family conflicts:

Think about the impact on others. When my mother was in rehab, she told me, 'I may have had a stroke, but I know I never see both of you in the same room. That makes me so sad.'

My children and his also knew that my brother and I were not on good terms. That was embarrassing for them. The consequences of not understanding affect more people than just the two or more of you who disagree.


What works best for your family - Zoom, FaceTime, WhatsApp, a family website, email, phone, or a caregiving coordination app to take on tasks and receive updates (Fabel Care, CaringBridge, Lotsa Helping Hands)?

Is it ordering groceries for delivery, weekly outings with the father, paying their bills online, more frequent visits, coordinating with doctors, writing a check for a household helper, or covering caregiving costs? You can choose not to participate, but at least they know it is expected.

Could the differences be about old grudges, the need to be right, or people's egos? Are there any merits in your siblings' viewpoints? Could you reach an agreement on the matter?

For example, if your sister feels taken advantage of, can you let her know that you appreciate her? Is a 'domineering' sibling even aware that you want to do more or have a say?

Listen! Unless it's about health, safety, or cognitive issues, what do your parents want? This is not about you! If the conversation with siblings becomes heated, take a break before it gets ugly. Es sei denn, es geht um Gesundheit, Sicherheit oder kognitive Probleme, was wollen Ihre Eltern? Es geht hier nicht um Sie! Wenn das Gespräch mit Geschwistern hitzig wird, machen Sie eine Pause, bevor es hässlich wird.

Still arguing? Consider bringing in a mediator, such as a clergy member, a family therapist, a friend, or a mediator for the elderly. Ziehen Sie einen Vermittler in Betracht, wie einen Geistlichen, einen Familientherapeuten, einen Freund oder einen Mediator für ältere Menschen.

Focus on the present.When I was beside myself because of my brother's behavior, a social worker at the hospice gave me good advice: Focus on your mission to ensure that my mother feels loved. She said I could clarify the type of relationship I wanted to have with my brother at a later time.

Accept reality.If your sibling is mean, clueless, or maybe even an idiot, that may not change. I kept reminding myself to 'act in a way that I have no regrets after Mom's death.' über die Aufteilung unter Geschwistern