In Consultation

In Consultation

Doing What's Best for Mom and Dad: Helping Contentious Siblings Find Common Cause

By Barry Jacobs

September/October 2010

Q: I'm working with a group of siblings who are arguing about their aging mother's care. How can I get them to forget their old rivalries and cooperate with one another?

A: Nothing reveals the fault lines in sibling relationships like the seismic shift caused by an aging parent's sudden decline. While their adult relationships may have been marked by decades of chummy phone calls and warm holiday dinners, brothers and sisters can quickly become locked in conflict about what's best for Mom and Dad. Struggles ensue over who has the right to make decisions, as well as who should make sacrifices on their parents' behalf. Old pecking orders, ancient rivalries, and latent feelings of entitlement reassert themselves. Sisters blame brothers for selfishness and neglect. Brothers slam sisters for self-righteousness and contempt. Battles over inheritances loom. The resulting resentments jeopardize siblings' ability to unite as a caregiving team, and may poison their relationships with one another long after their parents are dead.

At 52, Diane was a typical client dealing with these difficulties. The youngest of five adult children, she'd spent every day of the previous three years dressing, grooming, and comforting her severely arthritic mother. Her two sisters and two brothers took for granted much of what she'd been doing and were content to cheerlead from a distance. But when, feeling overwhelmed by the care demands, she convinced their…

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