Managing Family Conflict over the Care of a Loved One

three family members disagreeing


When an older family member develops a disease or condition that requires some outside assistance to manage, the rest of the family – whether it’s grown children, grandchildren or even a spouse – may have some specific ideas on what’s best for the person involved. Emotions run high as everyone feels they are looking out for their loved one’s best interest. Here are some tips to help manage family conflict and ensure that your loved one gets the help they need.

Assess your family’s strengths and weaknesses

Some family members may live nearby and can provide hands-on caregiving at various times during the day. Others may live out of town, but can provide financial support to help with medications, in-home healthcare or home care. Some may like to cook and can help with nutritional needs while another may be able to research treatment options and develop a list of potential medical professionals who can help with your family’s particular challenge. It’s important to allow everyone a voice in how they would like to help and then assess if that’s feasible to achieve stated goals.

Don’t let old issues get in the way of providing necessary care

When determining the best way to care for a loved one, unresolved family issues may get in the way of providing meaningful care. Revisiting and reopening long-standing family issues of sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, and other family issues is an easy trap to fall into. The best way to minimize these problems is to be aware of their possibility and consciously avoid them. Work with your siblings and other involved family members to focus your interactions around the older person’s needs and best interests, not other family business. If necessary, have a friend or professional counselor meet and talk with you to move the discussion along.

Learn to improve your family’s communication skills

When it comes to family communication, it’s never too late to improve. Even families with long histories of not communicating very well—or at all—can learn to share their views and ideas for meeting the eldercare needs of parents, grandparents, or other older relatives. If your family is “communication-challenged,” try these simple tips:

  • Think of family communication as an opportunity for personal and family growth.
  • Put your issues and concerns out on the table for discussion. Do others see the situation the way you do? Be open to give and take, but try to move in the direction of a consensus about what the eldercare needs and opportunities really are.
  • Be inclusive. Draw out what each family member is thinking and feeling, including the older person you are trying to support and care for.
  • Stick with it. Reaching consensus usually takes some work. Be willing to give it the time and effort it requires.
  • Be open to both asking for and accepting help. The whole idea is to not “go it alone.”
  • Share the load. Make sure there is basic fairness going on in terms of the financial, time, and emotional costs of the family’s overall eldercare efforts.
  • Know when to say “no.” If the “fairness” message is not getting through, or if you are simply stretched beyond your capacity, it may be a time to decline some tasks and speak with other family members about sharing them.

Consider hiring outside help if issues remain unresolved

Don’t get discouraged if you can’t solve things on your own. It may be time to call in a professional, such as an Aging Life Care Professional®, elder care attorney or a skilled therapist who can mediate family conflict when things become contentious or come to an impasse. At LifeCare Advocates, our care managers are trained to help families resolve conflict so that they can work together to create the best plan of care for their loved one.

Categories: Caregiving