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Caregiver Training Blog

Understanding the Complexities of Siblings and Elder Care


Coping with aging, sick or dying parents is difficult even under the best circumstances. Factor in the sibling strife that often arises in families trying to manage care for aging loved ones, and the situation becomes exponentially more challenging. Read on for a roundup of common sibling caregiving scenarios, along with tips aimed at keeping the peace. 

Common Sibling Caregiving Issues

Whether you’ve been feuding with your siblings since you were young enough to steal each others’ toys, or you’ve enjoyed relatively peaceful relations, caring for an ailing parent can lead to heightened emotions and unexpected conflict. 

Leo Tolstoy wrote, “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” When it comes to family caregiving, this sentiment is both true and false. Indeed, while the specifics may differ from family to family, there are several common kinds of conflict, including the following:

  • Lingering childhood relationships, roles and rivalries

While people change over time, family dynamics can remain surprisingly static. For example, if you’ve always been the “baby” of the family, you may feel like people still view you that way well into adulthood. Older children, meanwhile, may still feel saddled with the majority of duties and tasks long after younger family members have aged into adulthood.

  • Varying perspectives on an aging loved one’s capabilities and condition

There’s no clear-cut right or wrong when it comes to major senior care decisions, such as whether an aging loved one should still be driving or can continue to live independently. However, while a particular need may seem obvious to you, your siblings may have a different or even opposite opinion.

  • Controversy regarding the burden of care

In a perfect world, all siblings would be able to contribute equally. However, in the world we live in, everything from income disparities to physical distance to personality types can lead to differences (and perceived differences) about whether the burden of caring is being distributed equally. 

  • Financial matters

There’s a reason money has a permanent spot on the list of things best not discussed around the dinner table. However, when it comes to caring for an aging loved one, conversations about practical matters like estate planning and inheritances become necessary. From deciding on whether a certain medical intervention is necessary to dividing up the family estate, these issues can trigger tremendous tension between siblings.

Communication Counts

While there’s no guaranteed way to eliminate occasional hurt or angry feelings between sibling caregivers, there are several ways to keep the pot from boiling over. At the top of the list? Working together.

Establishing regular family meetings can help ensure that everyone remains on the same page. For those who can’t be present, email updates or social media posts can keep the lines of communication open.

Also, accept that everyone is different, with their own preferences, abilities and resources. Dividing the burden of care in a way that acknowledges these differences can improve processes while promoting good well. Additionally, including your parents in important discussions, such as regarding advance directives, can offer invaluable direction. 


Honesty is also imperative. Bottled up negativity only grows worse, while letting it out opens the door to fixing the situation. (This video, along with others in the series, can help you find your voice as a caregiver.) On the flip side, commit to being open to other ideas, abilities, and values besides your own. The ability to compromise is key. 

Lastly, if you can’t overcome your differences and find yourself butting up against the same issues over and over again, consulting with a professional — from your aging loved one’s doctor to a social worker, family counselor or mediator — can help you achieve resolution.  

Putting Your Loved One First

One thing to keep in mind while negotiating this tricky territory while caregiving for parents: The impact of this tension and conflict isn’t limited to you and your siblings, and can be an impediment to compassionate caregiving. Your parents are likely feeling it, too, which can detrimentally affect their mental and physical wellbeing. At the end of the day, you and your sibling share one goal above all else: Helping your parents progress through this time in the most comfortable and positive way. 

mmLearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmLearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs. For more helpful and relevant content for caregivers, access our database of free online caregiver videos today.