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Common Causes of Family Stress and Conflict

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Common Causes of Family Stress and Conflict

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that fragile family relationships can be one of the most challenging aspects of care giving for an elder, given the tremendous financial, physical, and emotional demands involved. This doesn’t mean that family disputes are inevitable. In many cases, the experience of caring for a senior family member has the potential to bring families closer as you help this person through this final stage of their life. Here’s how to avoid disputes with family members and work through them when they occur.

Typically, tensions rise because of:

  • Struggles dating back to childhood.Often, adults find that they traveled back in time when their family gets together, as roles and the sibling “pecking order” come back into play. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving. For example, if your older brother was the favored child, you may find that — no matter how successful and capable you are now — in your families’ home you become second in line again.
  • Tension over an elder’s condition and wherewithal.It’s common for members of a family to have very different ideas about what’s wrong with a loved one and what should be done about it. You may be convinced that your family member is no longer capable of going to get groceries on their own, while your sisters argue that he needs to maintain his independence.


  • Discord over Monetary matters and other practical issues. How to cover the costs of the care is often a huge cause for tension within a family. Monetary concerns can play a big role when deciding where the person should live, whether or not a particular medical service is needed, and whether he can afford a housekeeper. These tensions are often charged by ongoing animosity over income gaps and perceived unfairness in the allotting of the family estate.


  • Strain of care.Experts say the most common source of tension among family members occurs when the responsibility of care is not distributed evenly amongst the family members. History has shown that usually, one of the adult children will take on the majority of the care-giving tasks. The family member might assume this role because they live near the senior member, is recognized to have the fewest obligations, or has the closest relationship with the person. Whatever the reasons, the situation is likely to make them spiteful.


How to Avoid Family Eruptions

The following steps can help you become aware of and avoid some of these common triggers, so your focus can remain on your loved one and their quality of life.

Hold Regularly Scheduled Family Meetings

As soon as your loved one shows signs of health problems, try to schedule regular family meetings with your family members who will be involved in their care. The goal is to communicate, share any valuable information, and make informed decisions as a group; the meetings can also be a source of support and provide a opportunity for clearing up any tension.

If the majority of your family happen to live in different parts of the country, there are numerous free conference call options available (a quick google search will provide you with a list). Find a regular time for the family meetings that works for everyone involved — it could be once a month, bi-weekly, or whatever suits your family.

Split Up The Responsibilities

Rather than Insisting that everything be split up equally amongst family, consider splitting up the responsibilities that takes into account each family member’s availability to make this is as comfortable as possible for everyone involved. Your brother may find it tough to get away during the 9-5 work hours to take your family member to his doctor’s appointments, but perhaps he can handle his finances. A long distance or out of state relative won’t be able to help with day-to-day care, but may be able to come visit every few months to lighten your load. Splitting up the responsibilities in a realistic way can alleviate tension or animosity, and make care giving for an elder more efficient.

Why Open Communication Is Important

Most families have certain subjects, events, or topics that everyone avoids. Sometimes the topic is a sensitive one, like a substance abuse problem or a family tragedy, but often family members avoid speaking up because they are afraid of hurting feelings — or simply because communication has never been a strong part of the family culture.

Talk About It

If you feel you’re carrying too much of the weight, talk about it! Your family may not realize that you’re feeling overwhelmed, or even know how much you’re actually doing. If possible, during the next scheduled family meeting explain how you feel in a calm, non-confrontational way. Try to be clear, concrete, and specific when you ask for help. For example, ask a family member if they can take over the grocery shopping, or find out if someone can assume the role for getting your loved one to doctor’s appointments.

Offer Help Even If You Live Out of State

If you live out of state and other relatives are responsible for most of the care duties, be sure to stay in touch and offer your support. Check in frequently to see how things are going and to offer whatever assistance you can. Sometimes, just being an ear for someone’s frustrations or a person they can rely on for advice can go a long way.

How to Resolve Family Tension During This Time

Seek Mediation

A counselor or intermediary can help you and your family resolve disagreements or manage particularly difficult care-giving predicaments. Even if your family doesn’t have specific disagreements, you may want to see a counselor on an occasional basis. Many of the issues facing caregivers have no easy answers. Take, for example, your argument with your sisters about whether your dad can still drive. In a sense you’re both right: His motor skills might not be what they used to be in order to safely drive, but he needs his independence. An experienced counselor or intermediary can help you work through dilemmas like this one and determine what’s best for your family member — and for you. To find a counselor or intermediary, contact your local senior center or area agency on aging.

In Conclusion

If you find yourself in rising tensions with a family member over the care responsibilities for an elderly member, take a deep breath and view it from their perspective. Take a look at your own role in the current tension, and find a way that you can remedy it. Sometimes a simple “I’m sorry for (X)” can go a long way in easing things. 

If you have any questions about assisted living, or the steps that are involved with finding a home for your loved one, please call us at any time.

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