Q: My mother remarried 10 years ago and now I have an adult step sibling. My step sibling does not agree with me on how to help our parents as they age. How can I better work with him as our parents need more help?

A: It is not uncommon for siblings to disagree when dealing with the complicated and often emotional issues related to your aging parents. When the siblings are step siblings the emotions involved may be even more complicated. Finding a way to come to a shared understanding will be important as your parents age and require more help and decisions to be made.

There are more and more step siblings who only became a part of each other’s families as adults. You may not even know each other that well and you may be focused only on the concerns of your individual parent. However, now that your parents are together, any decisions about help at home and long-term care need to be made as a couple. That means the children involved will need to be able to communicate and support them together.

It may help to set up a time to talk with your step sibling first. Explain that you want discuss how you can work together to support both of your parents as they age. You both want what is best for your parent and even though you may have different opinions right now, the goal of helping your parents is something you share. Try and focus on this common goal.

Ask your step sibling if they have noticed any changes in their parent. Even if they say they think their parent is doing fine and does not need any help, you can ask them how they think care should be handled if it is needed in the future. Start the conversation in an open and inquisitive way, without assuming they will agree with you.

You may not agree, but each of you has valid feelings. You can share your thoughts and explain why, but ultimately you cannot control their attitude.

Once you have talked together you may want to suggest the next step of meeting together with your parents. Regardless of how either of you feel individually this is really about your parents and their wants and needs. Sit down as one family and ask your parents together what their thoughts are on needing assistance as they get older. Having all of you together for this talk will help with open communication.

Ask your parents what is causing them the most stress right now, as well as their concerns about the future. Share with them any concerns you may have or areas you see that they might need help with. These are not easy conversations, but remind your parents that you are coming from a place of love and caring. You want them to be in control of these decisions and share what is most important to them.

You may need to talk about the finances, as well. If they have separate finances, you want to be open and clear about how the funds will be used to pay for long-term care. Sometimes getting this part out in the open can help the step siblings feel more comfortable going forward that no one person’s finances will take more of the burden of care.

As you move forward, try and continue to be open and clear with your step sibling. Separate tasks and be specific about who will help with what. If there continues to be disagreements or arguments, consider involving an outside person to help mediate the conversation.  This can be a professional or a trusted family friend.

You can be the example of caring and clear communication. Trust in yourself and know it may not always be easy, but your love for your parent guides you as you do the best you can to support them as they grow older.

Martha Shapiro can be reached at Senior Concerns at 805-497-0189 or by email at mshapiro@seniorconcerns.org.

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