The Caring Corner - Blog

How to Avoid Sibling Caregiver Conflict

By Emma Dickison

Our relationships with our siblings are among the most complicated, conflicting and certainly the longest of our lives.

"Sibling relationships – and 80% of Americans have at least one – outlast marriages, survive the death of parents, resurface after quarrels that would sink any friendship. They flourish in a thousand incarnations of closeness and distance, warmth, loyalty and distrust." —Erica Goode

Caregiving Can Put Stress on Sibling Relationships

Depending on our personalities and age differences, our brothers and sisters are at times our mentors, rivals, co-conspirators, tormentors and best friends.

As we grow up and enter adulthood, the dynamics change considerably. The sharp edges smooth out and, even though there are ups and downs – and notwithstanding the occasional holiday squabble or ill-timed political manifesto – we tend to settle into the stable and polite pattern of a “normal family.” (Whatever that means.)

But changes in the family dynamics can sometimes reveal or simply stir up old models of our sibling relationships. Perhaps an older brother, who was the leader in the beginning, is no longer the point person for directing the care of Mom or Dad. Usually that’s not a problem, but when members of your caring team are not aware or respectful of the roles each of you plays, it can cause friction.

Discuss Your Caregiving Roles Now

One of the reasons we’ve been talking about caring roles lately is that we've seen in our experience how this sibling friction can affect not only the healthy adult-sibling relationships we all want, but can decrease the effectiveness of the adult parent's care plan.

Just like when we were young, our parents want their kids to get along. Peace in the family becomes even more important to us as we age. Open communication is a critical element of a successful family care team, but we put that at risk when we don't understand how our different personalities and skills play out on the care team.

That’s why we urge families to have a sincere discussion about the caregiving roles each should or would like to play. Be honest about your feelings. Often, the offenses we perceive in family relationships were never intended and can easily be avoided with compassion and discussion.

Here are a few strategies for leading a discussion on care roles with your siblings:

  • Ask your brothers and sisters how much time they expect to be able to spend with Mom or Dad. Everyone, including you, needs to be realistic.
  • Discuss your worries.
  • Discuss what "success" would feel like to each of you. Ideally, this will center on the wellbeing of your parent.
  • Take the free Caregiver Persona Quiz, and encourage your siblings to do the same. Then discuss how your results might play out within the family. 

Take at look at our Caregiver Personas Tool to learn more about family caregiving roles and discover the five main caregiver archetypes we’ve noticed in family care situations.

Explore the Home Helpers Caregiver Personas Tool

If you’d like to share your story about sibling relationships in a caregiving environment, join the conversation on Facebook.

Remember, for better or worse, we are in it together.