By Holly Pitas

Even in the happiest, most congenial of families, where you’ve gotten together for every holiday – differences of opinion exist. And they range from whether mashed potatoes are mandatory with lamb for Easter to what’s the best residential facility for a parent. Obviously the later decision is a bit more important, wouldn’t you say?

What happens when siblings differ, big time?

How can you navigate the trials of aging parents when you can’t stand to be in the same room with your childhood nemesis that just happens to share your DNA?

Remember, it’s not about you.  And, it’s not about your sibling. It’s about the best circumstances for your elder parent.  Keep your childhood ego under wraps and show up as a grownup.

Take stock of the situation Today.  And, respond in accordance with the person you are, Today.

Do you behave in the same manner you did at 10? Let’s hope not!  If you evolved into a well rounded adult, maybe your brother has too.  As much as you don’t want to be pigeon holed into the assigned family role you had as a child, give your sibling the benefit of the doubt and let them be a grownup too.

Assisted Living Facility Managers and Social Workers are often vexed at the complicated inner workings of the adversarial adult sibling relationship.

You want what’s best for your parent and so does your sibling.  Everyone should be on the same page as to the current status of the elder’s heath and needs. Family meetings are part of the process for sharing information and status reports about the parent that resides in assisted living.  Your refusal to cooperate does not harm your sibling, but it may harm your parent by causing undue stress and anxiety.

Blocking family meetings, withholding information, being rude to staff for talking to “the opposition” can have a negative result on the effectiveness of the facilities ability to perform for your parent.  Don’t waste the energy of the staff by making them navigate the proverbial minefield of your sibling dynamics.

If your mom is in her 80’s, you and her other children are likely to be in your 60’s.  Hmmm, so the people that have grown up and raised families of their own, have educations, possibly retired from successful professional careers, some may hold powerful roles in their communities, yet crumble to the behavior of their 5 year old self when placed in a room with their siblings;   Mind boggling.

What Can You Do To Work Around the Disharmony?

  1. Agree to disagree about the past.  Call a truce and move forward on behalf of the parents you love. Stop trying to be right and instead do right.  Help to do what is in your parent’s best interest.
  2. Realize that the Facility Professional is working on behalf of the senior and does not want to get caught in a family feud. If you really can’t be in the same room as your sibling, consider a phone conference.  It will give everyone the opportunity to share the same information without the pressure of a face to face.
  3. Decide what is most important for your parents.  If you can’t tolerate even a phone conference be willing to step out of the decision making.  Do not try to use your parent or the facility staff as a pawn in your family disagreements.

Where can you go for help when you really can’t stand your siblings?

Be upfront with the Facility Manager.  There’s always a family with a story worse that yours.  The Facility Manager has heard them all and can be instrumental in connecting you with the local resources that can help your family work together to promote the best situation for your aging parent.

Some families have experienced very serious issues that are beyond the scope of common sibling rivalry.  Three options that may provide the referee or  guidance your family needs:

The Ombudsman Program can provide support and direction on behalf of the elder.   You may contact the Wisconsin Board on Aging and Long Term Care (800) 815-0015, boaltc@ltc.state.wi.us.   National Ombudsman Contac

Some situations require the intervention of Elder Abuse Specialists.  In Wisconsin to find your local county contact or report visit http://dhs.wisconsin.gov/aging/elderabuse/ . The National Adult Protective Services Association,  www.info@apsnetwork.org.

Working with a professional Family Mediation Specialist may prove helpful to your family and provide the support your ailing elder parent needs. Wisconsin Association of Mediators at www.wamediators.orginfowam@mailbag.com

Realize that your behavior does influence the general health and well being of your parent.  We can pick our friends, but we can’t pick our family.  Keeping on topic will help smooth out some of the misunderstanding and disagreements that can crop up during the meeting process.  For better or worse accept the family you were born with and make the necessary adjustments to create a way for your family to move forward to work together for a positive experience for your aging parent.

About Holly:

Holly Pitas. Passionate in the belief that families need information and access to all levels of choice regarding assisted living and supportive options, Holly shares her insight as a family caregiver, professional service provider and industry enthusiast.  Learn your Wisconsin options at Assisted Living Provider List, www. ALProList.com