When Families Disagree on Care

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When family members are providing or coordinating care for an aging parent or loved one, some families seem to come to an agreement quickly on every issue that arises. When this happens, something beautiful occurs, and the care comes together smoothly. This was the case with Chris’s siblings when their mother could no longer communicate her wishes in her last days. Although no living will or advance medical directives were in evidence, five brothers and sisters were in complete agreement on every decision their mother’s doctors asked them to make. Their beautiful unison voice amazed the doctors and hospital staff alike. It was evident to everyone paying attention that this family loved and trusted each other completely, despite vast differences in age, career, education, and state of residence.

We have all seen families who struggle to talk about difficult issues and seem unable to find agreement on crucial decisions. Adult children quarrel with each other, their parents argue back, extended family members chime in, and even the medical advisors take a turn. They bicker back and forth about everything from who should manage the house, the money or mom’s medication schedule to whether dad needs to move in with one of them or be placed into a care facility. This discord is even more unpleasant when money is prominently featured in the conversation, or when one or two family members are pushing against a unified front made up of the rest of the decision-makers.

When conflict arises within a family dealing with caring decisions, it upsets everyone. This strain spills over onto friends, neighbors, and the one requiring care, even if they do not appear to be engaged in the conversation. In times of crisis such as illness, injury or a frightening diagnosis, the added stress makes tensions run higher for everyone involved in the decision-making process.

There are a few steps you can take to minimize conflict within your family.
1. Everyone needs to talk through possible scenarios ahead of time and try to come to an agreement. Talk to a medical professional and learn as much as you can about the possibility of future developments.
2. Work with a professional care manager who can offer insights and share resources. This person can also clarify expectations and suggest possible scenarios the family should negotiate before they actually occur.
3. Have your parents or loved one consider drawing up a living will or advance medical directive. The Five Wishes are an excellent resource to use when working through this course of action. Another process is called the Final Years Plan. Having this plan in place ahead of time can help discordant families know ahead of time about their loved one’s wishes.
4. Pray together as a family before any decisions are made. Ask your pastor to join you or your loved one’s pastor. Seek spiritual guidance and the Holy Spirit’s presence to sooth any past or present turmoil that could hinder unified consensus in the decisions that must be made.
5. Finally, talk openly about hard things like feelings, regrets, memories, and family history. Practice patience, embrace sorrow, and welcome laughter into the process. It probably won’t come quickly, but when it does the laughter will be well worth the wait.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about managing family conflict in decisions about care needs for your aging parent or loved one.

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