Sharon Beth-Halachmy

Avoiding sibling conflict when caring for an elderly parent

PeopleImages from Getty Images Signature via Canva
PeopleImages from Getty Images Signature via Canva

“Mom always liked you best!” went the old Smothers Brothers comedy routine.

Sibling rivalries. Dating back to the story of Cain and Abel, they are deeply woven into the tapestry of human interaction. Most fervent in early years — children vying for the love and attention of a parent — they tend to fade as siblings carve out their niches in adulthood. But later, as aging parents begin to need care, sibling rivalries can unexpectedly resurface — coloring decisions about care and finances and sometimes straining even the strongest of sibling bonds.

Recognizing potential triggers and addressing them head-on will go a long way towards not only ensuring your parents’ physical and emotional well-being but also preserving (if not strengthening) your relationship with your siblings. Here are some to look out for:

The “Go To” Person

It is not uncommon for one sibling to assume a predominant role in the family. Whether it’s the responsible eldest or the pampered youngest, these roles can persist into adulthood and magnify during times of family stress. But when one person assumes all responsibilities, either willingly or by default, it’s a ticking timebomb for resentment.


Proximity often dictates responsibility. Take Naomi, a corporate attorney, mother of 4 and savta of 2. Her mother, age 92, widowed, lives close to her in Jerusalem with a live-in caregiver. Naomi’s two siblings both live in the US, making Naomi her mother’s primary caregiver – a task she takes on with love. Naomi visits her mother frequently, takes her to doctor appointments, oversees management of her home and supervises her mother’s caregiver. It’s a lot. More than her siblings realize and try as she might, Naomi struggles to suppress a growing resentment that her siblings aren’t doing more…


Financial decisions are always tricky, more so when decisions about a parent’s care are involved. One sibling seeks the best care for his parents, no matter the cost; another feels that they should stay within the Israeli system of socialized medical care and subsidized home care. Who sets the budget? Who foots the bill? Money matters, unless approached with transparency and empathy, can tear families apart.

Lack of Communication

A lack of open and meaningful communication creates fertile ground for unchecked assumptions, misunderstandings and hurt feelings. WhatsApp groups are convenient for real-time information sharing information but lack emotional nuance and depth. There is no substitute for a face-to-face or phone conversation to ensure mutual understanding about a parent’s circumstances, wishes and needs.

Martyr Syndrome

This occurs when one sibling feels they are doing everything for the parent, perhaps sacrificing their own well-being, while perceiving others as inactive. This can lead to a complex mix of pride in their sacrifices and resentment towards other siblings. Addressing this early is crucial.


Anger can emanate from many sources – old wounds, jealousy, or current stresses. Recognizing and confronting anger before it leads to blow-ups or creates deeper rifts is essential. Look for constructive ways to express and process emotions. An intermediary or therapist can help with facilitating meaningful discussion.

Turn Rivalry into Results

The Covid-19 pandemic underscored the importance of family and the challenges of geographical separation when it comes to caring for aging loved-ones. Avoiding tension and infighting among siblings requires empathy, patience and intention. Here are some strategies:

Plan Proactively

Before health issues arise, initiate a family discussion. Talking with your parents when they’re healthy can provide clarity in their future care preferences. If health concerns already exist, engage your siblings in a dialogue about everyone’s concerns and insights. Remember, some siblings may struggle to come to terms with the reality of a parent’s deteriorating condition. Emphasize the importance of mutual support and continuous dialogue to navigate these emotional times together.

Collaborate and Delegate 

After discussing with your siblings, draft a caregiving plan. Collaborate to distribute caregiving responsibilities evenly. Even distant siblings can contribute virtually, like coordinating video calls or managing online tasks. Capitalize on individual strengths: perhaps your organized brother could manage appointments, while your lawyer sister might oversee legal matters.

Prioritize Family Harmony

It’s paramount to maintain a harmonious relationship, not just for the siblings but for your parents’ peace of mind. Embrace “Shalom Bayit” (translated as “peace in the home”) – a harmony that benefits all, creating a supportive and peaceful environment for your parents.

Seek External Assistance

Consider engaging a care manager when additional expertise or guidance is needed. Their professional insights, especially during familial disagreements, can be instrumental in ensuring optimal care for your parents.

In conclusion, while it’s common for old rivalries and tensions to resurface during stressful times, it’s essential to remember the ultimate objective: ensuring the well-being and happiness of your aging parent. By prioritizing communication, recognizing each other’s strengths and challenges, and sometimes seeking outside help, siblings can navigate this challenging period with grace, compassion, and unity.

About the Author
Sharon Beth-Halachmy is Founder and CEO of B'Lev Shalem, a senior care management company in Israel. She and her team of Care Managers work tirelessly to address the full spectrum of needs unique to seniors in Israel, from the routine of daily living to medical oversight, community and advocacy. B'lev Shalem's expert Care Managers ensure maximum independence and quality of life for seniors in Israel, and peace of mind for their families worldwide.
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