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When Families Feud, Elderly Parents Lose

Family feud

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Family caregiving doesn't typically run smoothly when brothers and sisters caring for seniors can't agree. Three key factors, more than any others, will influence if relationships between the adult children will deteriorate, and whether the quality of care to the parent will be compromised, according to research conducted for the Home Instead® network. Those factors are the adult children's ability to make important decisions together; their ability to divide the caregiving workload; and their level of teamwork.

It's difficult when aging parents believe that their adult children are experiencing family conflict as a result of caregiving issues. "My impression is that parents end up getting help when their children disagree, but I think the more common problem is that it's hard on elderly parents to know their children are in conflict," said Ingrid Connidis, Ph.D., sibling relationships expert from the University of Western Ontario.

"I think for most it's bad enough they already need the help of their children, but if their situation is causing conflict it's especially tough," said Connidis, who worked with the Home Instead network on the 50-50 Rule® public education program for sibling caregivers.

According to the website, family feuds often revolve around the following areas (link opens in a new window):

  • Roles and rivalries dating back to childhood. Mature adults often find that they're back in the sandbox when their family gets together. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving.

  • Disagreements over an elder's condition and capabilities. It's common for family members to have very different ideas about what's wrong with a loved one and what should be done about it. You may be convinced that your family member is no longer capable of driving, while your brothers argue that he needs to maintain his independence.

  • Disagreements over financial matters, estate planning, family inheritance and other practical issues. How to pay for a family member's care is often a huge cause of tension. Financial concerns can influence decisions about where the person should live, whether or not a particular medical intervention is needed, and whether he can afford a housekeeper. These conflicts are often fueled by ongoing resentment over income disparities and perceived inequities in the distribution of the family estate.

  • Burden of care. Experts say the most common source of discord among family members occurs when the burden of caring for an elder isn't distributed equally. Home Instead research reveals that in 43 percent of U.S. families and 41 percent of Canadian families, one sibling has the responsibility for providing most or all of the care for mom or dad. "Usually one of the adult children in the family takes on most of the caregiving tasks," says Donna Schempp, program director at the Family Caregiver Alliance ( a national nonprofit organization that provides information and support to caregivers.

Engaging parents in caregiving issues is important, Dr. Connidis said, and so are family meetings that involve a third party if necessary. A third-party resource, particularly a professional such as a doctor or geriatric care manager, can provide an impartial voice of reason. "Talking before a crisis is best," she said. "Talk to one another about perceptions of what happens if seniors need help, how available you would be, and the options that you and your family would consider."

Please download the guide: 50/50 Rule® Brochure (PDF 950K).

These articles and resources can help you and your brothers and sisters avoid family conflict.

Last revised: December 22, 2010

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. June 15, 2021 at 2:34 am | Posted by Randall Minge

    I have a father in the nursing home. He is 79years old. He can no longer walk & is basically chair bound. My mother is 85years old. She recently fell & broke her hip & cracked her pelvis. She layed on the floor for 3 hours till I happened to stop by to see her. This was her third broken hip in 10 years. After spending a month in the hospital & rehab, she is now at home. I feel she needs to be in a assisted living facility but my brother, who lives at home does not agree. He has power of attorney & makes all the decisions. But he calls me to gripe about having to deal with them. When I offer to help or offer advice, he gets mad. I feel left out of any decision making. My mom is scared to make any decisions that will upset my dad. She is in bad shape but my brother seems oblivious.


  2. June 28, 2016 at 9:07 am | Posted by Geoffrey Davis

    I have read these comments and do not feel so alone now. I started caring for both my parents on a regular basis about two years ago. They kept offering me money which I refused and eventually claimed carers allowance. Recently I had an interview with the DWP because someone said I was not doing the hours, it had to be one of my sisters who caused the trouble, needless to say they both deny it but only they know about the allowance. One of them lives about an hour away and only visits every two months or less the other is four hours away and visits four times a year. So why is it if mum makes a decision they don't like that I try to support, they shoot her down and she changes her mind even if it affects me directly. I and my husband are the ones that rush to them whenever there is a problem, I do all of the personal care, shopping, cleaning, laundry, gardening and trips to doctors,hospital etc and yet the other two are the ones listened to. I keep telling myself not to get upset but every time I get another metaphorical slap in the face I am reduced to tears. Life would have been so much easier if I were an only child!


    • February 22, 2018 at 10:00 pm | Posted by Diane

      Hi Geoffrey, I know what you are going through. It's difficult when you care for a parent and do everything you can for them only to be treated like your efforts or opinions are not important. That slap in the face really stings. It feels so disrespectful. I have found that it does no good to discuss this with my parent. From now on I will just let it go. Not worth the argument. You are to be praised for your love an efforts. Hang in there!D


  3. March 4, 2014 at 3:18 pm | Posted by [email protected]

    I have looked after my mum for the last 3 three years after diffucult mental issues one brother has always been over once a week the other two no sign, mum and my family have always expressed a wish to find an annexe property so we could live /together we had a family meeting last week and the brothers completely said no they wanted my mum in the midlands. Thats great,they have never shown any interest before this is pulling us apart.


  4. June 2, 2013 at 6:29 pm | Posted by gary

    my my mother has dementia. My older sister is her primary cargiver and has set uo rule foe my interaction with my mother. I am to call her or my nephew before calling my mother. I am to contact them prior to going by to see my mother. All of this is required to respect my mother schedule. I live some twenty mile away, and have a wife who has kidney disease who has treatment three times a week. I have called my mother either Sat. or Sun for the last several years and see no need to make these adjustment in my behavior when I think it's about my sisters controling behavior.


    • August 27, 2013 at 7:32 pm | Posted by Alicia

      My parents just moved in with my sister and I am experiencing the same issues. I am allowed to call M-Th after 6:00 pm. When I ask to visit, my sister says she will let me know when it is convenient but I never hear back. When I drop in unexpectedly, I am told that is unacceptable. How did you resolve your issues?


    • September 6, 2013 at 2:30 am | Posted by Pete

      I would love it if you were my sibling, but you are not. I cannot get my sister to call my mom let alone visit her. There are few things you might want to consider. The care provider is with the person in need 24/7. If you schedule time with the provider you will allow them some time to run errands and take care of themselves and not the person in need. Further the person in care may not be able to adjust easily to the change in normal daily routines. As the disease progresses they are more like infants than adults. Schedule and schedule disruption is very difficult to deal with. Finally I would recommend you go to a support group meeting and see what people talk about there it may enlighten you.


    • July 20, 2016 at 6:09 pm | Posted by Geoff Sadler

      Well, dementia, which I have experienced with my grandfather, has many negative side effects affecting the family -- and one of the worst is the missing inheritance assets and funds, insurance policies and other inheritance related assets and paperwork as a result of the dementia. A lot of money goes missing due to abandoned paperwork, pension documents, all kinds of stuff -- and family members never know things are missing or the lawyers have to get an inheritance recovery or probate research or heir finder firm to locate unknown inheritance assets. All due to dementia related problems, forgetting valuable assets and documents. It's terrible.


  5. March 24, 2011 at 11:52 pm | Posted by Carole Lalonde

    I am so impressed with this site, I needed to see this and view the information that is giving to help us, caregivers and families in order to help our parents. I can understand how conflict can arise with sibblings, I have a better understanding. Being a caregiver most of my life, I realize that you need to know your limits as well and talk with family when it becomes difficult so the task can be shared. Thanks for that info, this will benefit many of us!


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