Prior to her role as Services Lead for Grayce, Andrea Pezel, LCSW, MSW, built her career in family care, including over a dozen years as a medical social worker. She’s a seasoned expert in caregiving support, serving families in crisis situations and helping with short-term and long-term care planning, and is passionate about helping people navigate complex situations by creating practical solutions.
Question: My siblings and I keep disagreeing about mom’s care—everything from how to pay for it all to even what kind of care she should get. What can we do to help us settle these conflicts before we all turn on each other?
Response: After working with thousands of families planning for their parents, I have realized every single one of them has the same goal: to provide the best quality of life for their loved one. However, this single goal can be easily overlooked when a family disagrees. Rest assured that you’re not alone and conflict is normal in any relationship.
One of the most frequent misunderstandings about the sibling relationship is that childhood experiences are the same—and therefore you should all be in agreement every step of the way. In fact, each individual can have a uniquely different upbringing, even within the same household and with the same parents. While there may be substantial overlap in childhood experiences, formative life events and recollection of specific memories can lead to vastly different core values and beliefs. Ultimately, these beliefs and values shape the way in which we think about quality-of-life decisions for ourselves and our loved ones.
…formative life events and recollection of specific memories can lead to vastly different core values and beliefs.
In an ideal situation, you and your siblings would have a minimum of several months, if not years, to work through the complexities of deciding how to pay and care for your mother. However, for a lot of families, that’s just not how life unfolds. Most of the time, people find themselves in a crisis or transition stage sooner than expected, creating urgency in decision-making.
So, how do you know what decisions to make if you can’t come to an agreement? Start by talking with your mom. Allowing her to articulate her wishes and getting her involved in her own care will help guide the rest of the family on her preferences. You will also need to determine if there are any advanced care planning documents completed. This may include anything from a durable power of attorney to an advanced health care directive, a trust or a will. Even if your mom is unable to currently state her choices, these documents may help map out preferred medical and care decisions.
Next, schedule a meeting with your siblings. With busy schedules, it may be tempting to avoid this step to save time and communicate solely through text or spontaneous phone calls. However, it’s important to allow time to reflect and thoughtfully prepare. Prior to the meeting, request each of your siblings write down a list of their concerns and questions. Designate a notetaker, and keep in mind that this is a starting place. A few tips for a successful meeting include setting an end time to avoid emotional fatigue, discussing ground rules to encourage equal participation, and allocating time for each person to state their point of view. I also recommended scheduling multiple follow-up meetings so you don’t feel rushed in making these important decisions. Strive to end each meeting with a list of action items and the date for the next meeting.
…schedule a meeting with your siblings. With busy schedules, it may be tempting to avoid this step to save time and communicate solely through text or spontaneous phone calls. However, it’s important to allow time to reflect and thoughtfully prepare.
After the meeting is said and done, it’s time to divide and conquer. Share in the workload by having each person responsible for completing one of those action items. This cultivates teamwork and collective responsibility. Continue meeting regularly to not only plan for current decisions, but also to prepare for future ones. It’s unrealistic to think that you’ll be in full agreement with every decision; however, continued collaboration will foster open communication for ongoing problem resolution.
If you’re still unable to find common ground, it might help to meet with a mediator. Using a mediator allows a neutral party to add structure and support when the conversation is not progressing. A good mediator will also set ground rules to make sure everyone feels safe to share their thoughts and provide steps on how to resolve continued conflict.