Sibling rivalry can be brutal

Accusations flew … harsh words were spoken … resentment grew … and for a year now, they have not spoken at all.  

I’m delighted to have Frances Ferguson, a registered clinical counsellor in the Comox Valley, offer strategies for siblings to work together in caring for aging parents.

Frances brings over 15 years of experience helping individuals and couples to solve problems and make decisions, improve communication and set and reach personal goals.

Fifteen years ago, Cheryl, a single mom with three young kids, stepped up to the plate to care for her mother, who had suffered a mild brain injury.  Other family members had full lives of their own.

For years, her sister and brother each took their mom for two weeks in the summertime, feeling they had done their part. Now that their mother is elderly and decisions have to be made, the other siblings want to be in charge, and they are fighting for their share of her estate.

Accusations flew … harsh words were spoken … resentment grew … and for a year now, they have not spoken at all.

Sibling rivalry can be brutal.

The fights are no longer about who’s doing the dishes or who gets a larger piece of pie? They’re now about who looks after finances, who decides whether to pull the plug, and how to split up what’s left after they’re gone.

There’s a huge re-emergence of sibling rivalry because when we see that our parents’ time is limited, all the unmet needs we’ve had resurface — to be loved, approved of, forgiven, or feel as important or smart as your brother or sister. We revert to outdated roles, and it’s generally not conscious.

Here are some tips on getting through:

Family meetings: Our parents are a family responsibility. It’s best to get everyone together to talk, so everyone feels involved and able to provide their input. That includes siblings, step-siblings, and in-laws. Everyone has a role, and something to offer.

If you can’t do this on your own, consider an outside resource such as a family friend, financial specialist, or other professional to facilitate the conversation.

Be there: Siblings need to prop up the main caregiver. Do what you can.

Know what you want: If you’re the main caregiver, be clear. Do you want a sibling to relieve you at some point? Do you want whoever can afford it to hire someone to come in and help you? Or do you actually want to be in charge of everything, but want your siblings to thank you?

Be explicit: Make up a list of all the specific things that need to be done and ask people to sign up for tasks they’re able to take on. Some people can’t do personal care, but can hire a house cleaner, drive, or help with errands.

Avoid talking when angry: Speak up about issues before you’re peeved.

Share financials: The sibling given financial authority should share details about expenses with the others, even when not asked.   Being transparent helps to build trust.

Be part of the solution: If you find yourself in conflict with a family member, step back and get some perspective. Consider your role in the conflict, and ask yourself if you’re acting out an old family role or resentment. Seek support and insight.

Helpful reading: They’re Your Parents Too!  How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy by Francine Russo.

• • •

For more information about Frances and her practice, please visit her at or reach her by telephone at 250-871-7303.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.


Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

B.C. Finance Minister Selina Robinson outlines the province’s three-year budget in Victoria, April 20, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C. deficit to grow by $19 billion for COVID-19 recovery spending

Pandemic-year deficit $5 billion lower than forecast

Co-ordinator/founder David Clarke, right, is pictured with members of Comox Valley Street Outreach during Monday’s rig dig. Scott Stanfield photo
Comox Valley group aims to stop overdose deaths, reduce stigma

As the overdose crisis worsens throughout B.C., a local advocacy group is… Continue reading

London Drugs now taking COVID-19 bookings. Screenshot, London Drugs
Courtenay London Drugs now taking COVID-19 bookings

A number of locations in Western Canada selected to give vaccine

A wildfire has started near Gold River, and B.C. Wildfire Service crews are on scene. Photo courtesy Coastal Fire Centre
Wildfire burning in remote area near Gold River

Coastal Fire Centre investigating cause, but confirms it is human-caused

Volunteers paint the famous Denman Island Graffiti Fence with messages for Earth Week. Photo by Danni Crenna
Denman Island celebrates Earth Week

The Denman Island Climate Action Network (DICAN) has kicked off Earth Week… Continue reading

FILE – NDP Leader John Horgan, right, and local candidate Mike Farnworth greet one another with an elbow bump during a campaign stop in Coquitlam, B.C., on Friday, September 25, 2020. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. won’t be using random individual road stops to enforce travel rules: Safety Minister

Minister Mike Farnworth says travel checks only being considered at major highway junctions, ferry ports

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The following is a list of restaurants offering take-out and patio dining. ADOBE STOCK IMAGE
List of Comox Valley restaurants offering take-out, patio dining options

Restaurants in the Comox Valley continue to adapt to government-imposed restrictions in… Continue reading

A man pauses at a coffin after carrying it during a memorial march to remember victims of overdose deaths in Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. announces historic half-billion-dollar funding for overdose crisis, mental health

Of it, $152 million will be used to address the opioid crisis and see the creation of 195 new substance use treatment beds

Children’s backpacks and shoes are seen at a CEFA (Core Education and Fine Arts) Early Learning daycare franchise, in Langley, B.C., on Tuesday May 29, 2018. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
B.C. budget to expand $10-a-day child care, but misses the mark on ‘truly universal’ system

$111 million will be used to fund 3,750 new $10-a-day spaces though 75 additional ChildCareBC universal prototype sites over the next three years.

Mak Parhar speaks at an anti-mask rally outside the Vancouver Art Gallery on Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020. Parhar was arrested on Nov. 2 and charged with allegedly violating the Quarantine Act after returning from a Flat Earth conference held in Geenville, South Carolina on Oct. 24. (Flat Earth Focker/ screenshot)
Judge tosses lawsuit of B.C. COVID-denier who broke quarantine after Flat Earth conference

Mak Parhar accused gov, police of trespass, malfeasance, extortion, terrorism, kidnapping and fraud

Ambulance paramedic in full protective gear works outside Lion’s Gate Hospital, March 23, 2020. Hospitals are seeing record numbers of COVID-19 patients more than a year into the pandemic. (The Canadian Press)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate declines, 849 cases Tuesday

Up to 456 people now in hospital, 148 in intensive care

Most Read