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How to Work as a Team When Siblings Disagree on Care Decisions

When siblings disagree we can quickly revert to childlike behavior.  Growing up together, we know each other's strengths, weakness, and what makes each other tick.  For some reason we have little fear of saying what we think to our brothers and sisters.  The worst we can do is to stop talking to each other.   Siblings cannot divorce each other, so getting away forever is not likely.

Now we are adults with an elderly parent that needs us, and we cannot agree on care options.  As a health care provider working with the elderly for decades, I have seen this situation many times.  The argument may be about money, treatment options or who was loved more.  Sometimes it is about all three!  Throw in a little guilt, long distances and lifestyle differences, and you are ripe for some disagreement.

So how do siblings agree on anything?  First I recommend that you let go of the past. Really, I mean that.  No one has a perfect childhood.  So what if mom liked your sibling more!  As one of many children and a parent of several, I assure you that life and times vary somewhat.  It is not worth carrying your past to the grave, as you will live every day hauling that anger and frustration around with you.  The weight of your past can drag you down and materially impact your interactions with others, career opportunities, and overall happiness.  If you need mental health counselling, get it.

When it comes to making decisions for a parent, it needs to be “all hands on deck” and focused on just one thing: the best care for the elderly parent.  I would ask each of you, “What would you advise a complete stranger is the best course of action?”  If you are able to remove yourselves from the equation, it is quite simple to make logical, rational decisions.  So, pretend that it is someone else coming to you for advice about care options. 

If you are unable to agree, bring in an outsider to mediate.  It need not be a professional mediator, just someone you all respect and agree on who is not involved financially or legally.

Here is something you can do.

Show your siblings this article,

Wait for a response. Give them time to think it through, unless the situation is urgent and requires immediate decisions.
If there are health care decisions that need to be made, it is wise to request a family meeting with the patient’s MD and all siblings so they can be present to hear the same information. If there are siblings that are unable to attend, see if they can attend over speaker phone, conference call, or a service such as Skype or Google Hangounts. Many conflicts arise when one or more siblings feel like they are not part of the process. Make every effort to include each other in all decisions regarding your parents.

To prevent future problems and disagreements over what your parents want, encourage them to create a will and designate a health care power of attorney and a financial power of attorney. These documents allow your parents to spell out what they want to be done if they are ever unable to make their own decisions. This may prevent future problems with siblings arguing over what is “best” for mom or dad.