What to Do When Siblings Disagree About a Parent’s Care

No family is perfect. We all go through trials with our loved ones, and from time to time, these arguments can get in the way of important family decisions. That is especially true when siblings disagree about their elderly parent’s care.

Conflict between siblings is relatively common when it comes to making decisions on caregiving responsibilities. Left unchecked, these spats can quickly unravel into full-blown family conflict — all while an elderly parent is waiting to receive the support he or she needs. It’s an ugly situation.

These tips will help you know what to do when siblings disagree about a parent’s care.

Why Siblings Fight About Caregiving Responsibilities

Each family is different. There’s no way we could possibly list the cause of every disagreement that comes up while families are trying to figure out what to do. However, sibling disagreements are typically rooted in one of the following.

Differing Perspectives on a Parent’s Needs

Before a real discussion on care can even begin, the participants have to agree that the parent in question does, in fact, require some help. But even that can be a source of conflict between siblings. One sibling may feel it’s time to intervene, while the other thinks dad is still getting along just fine. Even if there is a consensus that the parent does need care, brothers and sisters can disagree on just how much is needed or matters like whether mom or dad should continue driving.

This kind of disagreement is more likely to occur when one sibling lives further away and has less contact with his or her parent than the other, limiting their perspective of the situation. Denial can also play a role; it can be tough to admit your parent needs help.

Paying for Care

Everyone agrees that mom could use a hand cooking, shopping for groceries, and keeping the house in order. But who’s going to pay for all this? Money is one of the most frequent sparks that lights conflict between siblings. People are even more prone to argue when there is a clear income disparity between them, which makes it hard to swallow the notion of splitting the costs equally.

Dividing Responsibilities

In a perfect world, each of the senior’s children would play an equal part in shouldering the responsibilities of providing and paying for care. In reality, this is rarely feasible. The bulk of the responsibility often falls on the sibling who lives closest to the person in need. There is also a gender imbalance here: women make up the vast majority of unpaid family caregivers in Canada (62.1%), meaning that daughters usually provide more hands-on care than their brothers.

It’s not surprising that this imbalance leads to conflict.


When it comes time to help mom and dad downsize, it’s almost inevitable that siblings will start to wonder about the eventual ownership of all the possessions being packed up and boxed away. And if one or both parents become hospitalized, talk of the will (or lack of one) is almost inevitable. These kinds of conflicts can turn ugly fast, and they can be an enormous obstacle on the path to making care decisions.

What to Do When Siblings Disagree About a Parent’s Care

It’s not always possible to prevent conflict from happening. But what you can do is take steps to work around it and keep moving towards the goal of finding your mother or father the care they need.

Set An Example

How your brother or sister behaves is outside your control. What you can control is how you react to them. Staying cool-headed will stop the conflict from escalating and demonstrate that tactics like name-calling or passive-aggression will not work; if you feel tempted to bite back, it’s time to take a break from the discussion.

Seek Guidance

Some families find it’s easier to work through disagreements when there is a neutral party there to act as a ‘referee’. This is especially useful if conversations have a habit of turning to confrontations. Someone like a family counsellor or mediator can help keep the discussion moving in the right direction.

If the disagreement concerns decisions about the parent’s medical care, have a trusted physician or healthcare professional weigh in on the options at hand.

Take Care of Yourself

Having to make decisions about your mother or father’s care is hard enough without the added pressure of a sibling conflict bearing down on you. Share your feelings about the situation with someone you trust (who is not part of the decision-making) and practice self-care throughout the process.

Remember: the conversation isn’t about you or your brother or sister. It’s about making the right decision for someone who needs your support. Don’t let get in the way of finding Mom or Dad the care they deserve.
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