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Stop the family feud: Tips to better communicate

Posted by Mary Van Orman
Date:

couple arguing

It’s a sad truth, but many families find themselves arguing about their aging parent and their care needs. It can be a complicated, stressful, and confusing time for many families. Growing concerns and questions can cause conflict if everyone is not on the same page. Should your parent be living alone?   Should they still be driving?   Do they have a health condition or cognitive impairment that needs to be addressed?   Are siblings in denial about the health and care of their parent?   Caring for a family member can be complicated but the focus must be on the needs of your loved one.   If you and your siblings cannot agree about their care, it is your parent who will lose.

Here are a few tips to keep in mind as you discuss these delicate issues as a family.

Parent participation.   Ask your aging loved one their opinion about where they want to live, care needs, and health concern.   If they are not cognitively impaired, allow them to participate in the decision-making process. You may be surprised by their response.   And this will give your family a goal or request to work toward together. It still may be a compromise, but your parent should be included.

Keep everyone informed.   A group email or family meeting in person or via Skype can help keep everyone in the loop about how your parent is managing. Try to state the facts of their situation and remove the emotion that can cause hurt feelings or defensiveness. Families can make better decisions as a unit if they are well informed.

Open communication. You need to tell your siblings what you need, especially if you are the caregiver for your loved one.   You may feel like you are stuck with the lion’s share of care responsibility, but don’t expect your siblings to read your mind.   Ask clearly for what you need and if they cannot help, then you need to discuss hiring assistance and how to pay for that.

Play to your strengths. No family is perfect but this is the time to pull together.   Share in the responsibilities by dividing task according to each sibling’s strength. If you are a good communicator, perhaps you should take the lead with the group communication.   If you are good listener, perhaps the primary caregiver can use you to vent when they need support.  Everyone can contribute whether near or far from your loved one.

Hold your tongue.   Swearing, shouting, and bring up past issues are abusive ways to communicate.   Focus on what is important.   And if your parent is safe, perhaps you can let some things go in the interest of keeping the peace.

Take a break.   If a particular issue becomes contentious, take a break.   Don’t say something that you might regret.   Families have a way a pushing your buttons.   Take a break from the argument, breathe deeply, and calm yourself down.   You may need to be open to compromise.

You are, who you are.   Don’t expect that your flawed family will suddenly come together perfectly when a loved one is sick or can no longer live alone. You are dealing with a group of adults who have a lot of history with each other.   You and your siblings are not going to change but you need to agree to keep the focus on your loved one.   This is not a power struggle that anyone wins.

Be empathetic.   Having to move your parent, confront health issues, or hire care is stressful for everyone involved.   Be gentle with each other and don’t dredge up the past.

In the end, if communication fails, be open to hiring a family counselor or a mediator who specialize in senior care. A neutral third party can help find a consensus so your family can move forward to appropriately care for your parent.