Sibling fights are often rooted in untested mind-reading. Here’s an example of how to work your way to peace through a minefield of negative assumptions.
Janet suspects her brother Marshall may be taking advantage of their mom, whom Marshall lives with. Janet lives in another state. Janet requests a full disclosure of Mom’s bank account and other assets. Shouldn’t Marshall be paying rent? she wonders. Is he buying his own groceries or eating Mom’s? Is he using Mom’s credit to his advantage?
If Marshall works and Mom has a daytime helper, is the aide making Marshall’s bed or doing Marshall’s laundry? How much is that helper paid, anyway? Janet feels if Marshall doesn’t work, he should provide the care-giving and stop wasting their Mom’s money with outside help.
Janet could be right – or very wrong. Unchecked assumptions are cancerous.
Let’s take a moment to review Janet’s unchecked assumptions:
- Marshall doesn’t contribute money. (Or does he?)
- Marshall doesn’t contribute labor. (Who makes Mom’s medical appointments and takes her to doctors? To church or outings? Shops for Mom? Writes Mom’s checks? Supervises the help? Fixes the stopped-up toilet? Shovels snow?)
- Marshall sacrifices nothing. (Does he have personal relationships? Free time to pursue his own interests?)
- There are cheaper arrangements to meet Mom’s needs. (Marshall may be saving Mom a ton of money over assisted-living or nursing care.)
- Marshall is capable of meeting Mom’s care needs.
- Mom would be happier with another arrangement.
Now, let’s review Marshall’s assumptions:
- Janet’s request is an accusation. (Could be a valid question.)
- Janet is greedy – treating Mom’s money as if it’s already hers.
- He isn’t obliged to share information with Janet.
- Janet doesn’t want what’s best for Mom.
How might adult siblings prevent this scenario?
Let’s review 7 ways Janet and Marshall can resolve their conflict:
- Have a three-way conversation with Mom about her wants and needs.
- If Mom lacks capacity or there are too many unknowns (available resources? costs?), hire a professional care manager (geriatric social worker) to assess Mom’s needs and recommend solutions. A neutral, informed person can help manage expectations.
- Marshall could voluntarily share information about Mom’s needs, expenses, and finances. (This could be done weekly, by phone or email.)
- Marshall could clarify what he’s doing for Mom and share his own needs. He could suggest ways that Janet could help.
- Marshall might recognize that because she’s away, Janet may feel guilty and isolated – her demands may be a hidden plea for inclusion in Mom’s life and care.
- Janet might offer to come at regular intervals to take a turn with Mom and give her brother a respite.
- Janet could say, “Thanks.”
Still at loggerheads? An elder mediator can help siblings learn to speak and listen with compassion and respect.
Beyond Dispute Associates
© Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Carolyn Parr and Beyond Dispute Associates with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.
Nathan Jernigan says
Pastor Parr: Thanks for your balanced view of the caregiving role. As a Caregiver, professionally and also for my disabled relatives, I do seek to make a difference in the quality of life for those under my care, which reflects everything that I receive as a result of my measurable effort.
One example of this is when the late Pastor Gordon Cosby, linked me to you and your husband (Father Parr,) many years ago for my pursuit of becoming a more compassionate Human. And for it, I not only love Pastor Cosby still, but also you and your husband, more and more, for the care and giving I have received from each of you, consistently, via the years.
Virginia Colin says
I love this sentence: “Unchecked assumptions are cancerous.” Unchecked assumptions can indeed be dangerous and poisonous in a wide variety of relationships and situations.