Perhaps you are familiar with sibling rivalry. It’s common, but when it surfaces in the face of managing an aging parent, sibling relationships can explode. Here’s a real life example:
Jason and Jerry are brothers, just two years apart. Both have accomplished much in their professional lives. Jerry likes to be in control of things, a habit in his life. Jason, the older brother, also likes to be in control. The two often clashed in their younger days. Now that Mom has reached age 90 and is in failing health, things have come to a head.
Mom fell and was hospitalized. She lived closer to Jerry, who oversaw her care. She was diagnosed with dementia while in the hospital and Jerry decided, without asking Mom what she wanted, to place her in a high-end memory care home. She was told it was temporary. It wasn’t. Jerry sold her house and gave away many of her belongings, all without her permission. Mom called Jason and begged him to come and get her. Jason was angry at Jerry for how he treated Mom, her home and her belongings.
Jason lived in a different state. He planned out how to remove Mom from the memory care without telling Jerry. He arrived, grabbed a few of Mom’s things and took her with him back to his own home. Jerry was furious! He said his brother had “kidnapped” his mother and forced her to go with him. Of course, he sort of forgot to ask his Mom what she wanted. Having dementia does not automatically mean the person with it has no choice about anything, including where to live and receive care.
Lawyers Got Involved
The fight was on. Both brothers hired attorneys. Both had in mind getting retribution from the other for perceived wrongs. The attorney for Jason wisely considered how to keep the sibling warfare from escalating, and she suggested family mediation. Both attorneys agreed and the meeting was set. Mom was present. She made it clear in her statement to all that she wanted to remain where where was, with Jason and his family, as she was happy there and did not want to go back to memory care. Jerry reluctantly agreed but obviously was still angry with Jason over his removing Mom from his control. Jerry also agreed, at Mom’s direct request, that he return her personal belongings he had in storage and her jewelry, which Jerry had given to his wife. Matters were largely resolved at the family meeting, conducted by us at AgingParents.com.
This case was a clear example of siblings rivaling for control, while failing to be transparent about their different plans for their mother. Jerry could have asked his Mom what she wanted before telling her a false story that placement in memory care was temporary. Jason could have spoken with Jerry about the call from Mom asking to get out of there and go with him. That communication might well have avoided the expense of lawyers and the bitter exchanges between brothers, fueled by legal theories the lawyers proposed. They spent money on a conflict that might well have been avoided. At least it did not escalate further. Family mediation was successful.
If there is sibling conflict about aging parents in your family, consider your options before rushing out to make things more contentious by hiring lawyers.
- Communicate with one another about what you see and what you think is best for the aging parent. If you’re not comfortable being direct, get an experienced family mediator to facilitate a meeting. It’s voluntary and informal. Courts are not involved at the early stages.
- Bear in mind that a diagnosis of dementia does not mean the elder should be deprived of choices, especially when the elder is still capable of communicating their wants.
- Losing sight of what your aging loved one wants and fixating on what YOU think they want or what is best will only lead to strife. Ask your elder about all available choices that fit their ability to pay for necessary care. When it’s safe, let the elder choose.
- Old sibling conflicts from an earlier day must be set aside to focus on your aging parent’s current safety, need for peace and current desires. This only works if one commits to letting go of the past.