Aging Parents and Sibling Rivalry

Posted by on Sep 7, 2010 in Family Relationships |

When an aging parent is thrown into a crisis, siblings have the chance torally around each other and use their strengths to cope with the crisis in a way that serves everyone’s best interests. But old rivalry, competition and established role relationships and scripts can heighten conflict and crisis.

How can brothers and sisters put aside these patterns when they are forced together to help their aging parents? 

First, recognize and accept differences. You and your siblings do not necessarily share values, beliefs, and experiences; in fact, you may come from different generations!

If you are an “early boomer” born between 1946 -1950, you are close to retirement and likely addressing some of your own aging issues.

If your youngest sibling was born 15 years later in the early 60’s, you two may not have much in common. This “late boomer” is still involved in work and career and raising children.

Next, respect the differences. This is easier said than done, but necessary for working together for a common family goal. This process requires internal work – to abandon judgment and criticism of someone whose views are different from yours.

Then, really listen. Possibly the most important communication skill is to become an “active listener.” It takes work, but listening to others can help you to find common ground. 

Here are five tips on being a better listene 

  • Listen at least as much as you talk. Ideally, listen more than you speak.
  • Try to understand (if not agree with) the other’s point of view.o  Ask for clarification if you do not understand
    o  Give positive –  or at least neutral – feedback on their ideas

  • Suspend judgment and assumptions while listening.
  • Listen for the feelings that lie beneath the words.
  • Avoid the temptation to become sarcastic or critical.

Active listening requires intention as well as attention! Each person must truly want what’s best for everyone, not just to advance his or her own agenda. 

Involving an impartial outside party, such as a trusted family friend, advisor, or counsellor, can help interrupt these patterns. The presence of an impartial third party in the room is often enough, in itself, to change the tone of family conversations.

A skilled third party can also be helpful in framing or re-framing the issues, monitoring for good listening skills, and helping all family members discover and remove the blocks to effective conversations.


Vol. 5, No. 4
© ElderWise Publishing 2009.
You have permission to reprint this or any other ElderWise INFO article, provided you reproduce it in its entirety, acknowledge our copyright, and include the following statement: Originally published by ElderWise, Canada’s go-to place for “age-smart” planning. Visit us at and subscribe to our FREE e-newsletter.


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