Can’t We All Just Agree? Five Tips to Handle Conflict When Caring for An Elderly Parent

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Bringing an elderly parent into your home isn’t easy. Disagreement is bound to occur especially if you have siblings or other extended family members involved. In fact, one of the greatest sources of stress and anger in caregivers is the conflict experienced among their closest family. So how do you positively handle conflict when caring for an elderly parent?

Our greatest family conflict was just a few months after we moved into my MIL’s home and she officially became part of our family unit.

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The day after my father-in-law’s funeral, my husband, his siblings, their spouses, and I all sat down to discuss what would happen next. We came to an unofficial, unwritten agreement.

  • Being the closest relatives, my husband and I would assume the role of caregiver.  
  • We would have little to no accountability. They trusted us.
  • All decisions, including financial, would be ours to make.

After a few weeks, we were still transitioning to one home. Problems – physical, mental, emotional, and financial – plagued us daily. My husband’s siblings had very little involvement.

For a while.

Related Post: Establishing Your Role As A Caregiver for Your Elderly Parent

My MIL’s finances were being worked out so we didn’t always receive money when we were scheduled. My husband and I didn’t think anything of using our money to pay bills and fill needs at the first of the month and then my MIL’s money to fill the needs for the rest of the month.

We were one family after all. It didn’t matter which account it came from as long as all the bills were getting paid on time and our needs met.

His siblings disagreed.

They felt my MILs money should only be used for her and were concerned when they saw things like a car payment come out of my MIL’s account. They were not understanding about the timing or the needs of our changing household.

This concern soon led to conflict.

What To Do When Conflict Arises

So what do you do when conflict arises? How do you handle everyone’s input on your lives? It’s easy to see how you would have handled things differently in retrospect but there are ways to lessen conflict at its start. Then, instead of repairing relationships and months, if not years of strained encounters, you will become a valuable caregiving team.

Related Post: Finding Help for Your Elderly Parent When You Can’t Be There

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 1. Realize your siblings don’t always see what you see.

You know that old saying, “There are two sides to every story?”.

My husband and I saw the big picture.

We saw bills being paid and needs being met. The when and how wasn’t important to us. We saw that we had bought $500 in desperately needed new bedding from our account at the beginning of the month. As a result, we paid our mid-month car payment from my MIL’s account.

My husband’s siblings saw my MIL paying our car payment.

They accused us of negligently using my MIL’s money. We defended ourselves. What should have been a simple fix escalated quickly to a full-on conflict.

If we had stopped to see things from their point of view, we could have easily provided evidence and, with their help, made adjustments to our “system”.

2. Even though it is not at the top of your priority list, it might be a great concern for them.

I had just made this great change that benefited the entire family. I had quit my job, moved into someone else’s home, taken on greater responsibility by becoming the primary caregiver for my MIL, AND had a baby. It didn’t matter to me where money came from as long as bills were paid and needs were met.

My husband’s siblings wanted clarity – our money used exclusively for our expenses and my MIL’s money used exclusively for hers. They wanted justification for every purchase made.

My priority was making a home, theirs was looking after my MIL’s financial security. No one’s priority was off, just different.

3. Take yourself out of the picture for a moment and try to see things from their perspective.

I despise conflict! I practically shut down at financial conflict. All I could see was my husband’s siblings creating conflict – questioning our character, our motives, even our Christian faith all because of money.

In my eyes, they were completely ignoring the more important issues in our home and focusing on something unimportant.

After the conflict died down I was able to see things differently.

  • They were not involved in many other aspect of their mom’s care. This was a way they could play an active role.
  • They had experienced their mom making a mess of her finances not too many years before and were still suffering from the scars that experience left behind.

When I took myself out of the conflict I was able to see things through their eyes. It has helped keep things like this from happening again and allowed all of us to move on.

4. Examine your motives.

  • Is there cause for concern?
  • Did you drop the ball?
  • What could you have done differently?

I was not concerned at all with money. My focus was to restore peace and harmony to our home. I paid things as they came in from whatever account had money in it and allowed my MIL to make decisions she wasn’t capable of making. In retrospect, this was a harmful attitude. Knowing that I made a mistake and also needed forgiveness made me more forgiving of the hurtful things done and said to me.

Related Post: Do You Have What It Takes To Be A Caregiver for Your Elderly Parent?

5. Communicate.

I cannot stress this enough! If we had done more communicating in the beginning we could have avoided so much of the conflict that lasted almost a full year.

Make your motivation clear.

When I got the chance, I let my sister-in-law, the sibling who had been most involved in the conflict know what my motives were. She recognized that I wasn’t trying to be negligent but that I had too much responsibility too soon.

Discuss your options.

What set us on the path toward reconciliation was meeting with a mediating attorney. He was able to help us define roles and responsibility.

We drew up an agreement that clearly stated our expectations and needs and walked away with a situation that was acceptable to all of us. We all recognize this agreement could have prevented this conflict from occurring in the first place.

Apologize if necessary and be forgiving.

My sister-in-law and I had a wonderful relationship before this conflict. I missed it terribly and knew I had to apologize for my part in this conflict. Despite the fact that both our motives were pure, we said things that were hurtful. I apologized to her and expressed a desire to rebuild our relationship. She accepted and we are a united caregiving powerhouse.

Learn to appreciate their input.

While it can be difficult to let “outsiders” have input in your home and life, it can be so beneficial. Your concern is most often with the immediate here and now, your day-to-day life. You might not always see the future consequences. Those that are not involved in your day-to-day are able to see those things you are not.

Finding Resolution

While this conflict was difficult and stressful on everyone, I’m so grateful it occurred when it did. I will be the first to admit, I did not handle this conflict with the grace I should have, but I have learned from my errors. My relationship with my husband’s siblings is restored and we are now able to work harmoniously to ensure my MIL is receiving the best care possible.

We all realize that our motives are the same – to see our mother/MIL live out her days as happy and healthy as possible in the loving embrace of her family. Keeping this in mind and following these five tips help us handle conflict with grace.

To keep things legal and for everyone’s protection, our family hired an attorney to draft a family agreement. This agreement defines everyone’s roles, outlines my MIL’s wishes, and protects her assets.

Did you like this post? How has your family learned to handle conflict when caring for an elderly parent? Let me know in the comments below.

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