It’s Not Always Rosy on the Family Caregiving Front: How to Negotiate Conflict

True confession: it’s not always smiles and peaceful conversations in my family!   I doubt I’m alone.  The reality is each of us (and our family members) bring unique personalities, egos, and needs to the decisions and roles involved in caregiving.

Couple these facts with one of the most emotionally charged situations I’ve ever experienced, caring for an aging parent, and you’ve got a recipe for conflict.

I’m not saying this to be negative.  I’m a realist. I’ve experienced it.  I’ve also had countless friends and acquaintances come to me with stories of the disagreements and ugliness between them and their siblings, over decisions on caring for mom or dad ,brother or sister…or even the care for a special needs child.

You know it’s not going to go well if…

In my family, you know it’s going to impossible to agree and solve our problems if any one of us starts to blame or fight unfairly with each other.  Can you relate to your own experiences?

Or, in your family, is it more about delaying the inevitable argument by avoiding the elephant in the room?  Oh, and what about those times where everyone throws their hands up in the air and just give up?  

It’s not going to go well in any of these scenarios.  Nor is there room for compromise if one person decides to be totally rigid in his/her viewpoint or becomes demanding.

So, where does that leave us if we want some peace and honesty and solutions?  It leaves us squarely at the door of negotiating conflict.

You Can Negotiate and Solve Problems IF…

  • Is there a problem?  It takes willingness to admit there’s a problem.  It takes willingness to want to address it.
  • What’s the problem?  To negotiate problems you have to identify the problem.  You’re honestly wasting time if the problem is not clearly stated and understood to be a problem.
  • What’s the answer?  Rarely is there only one solution.  Negotiation means laying out options.  Your goal should be to give everyone the opportunity to weigh the options in order to determine if they are workable.  Oh, and they should of course be addressing the problem.
  • What do you need?  Remember, we are human and have needs.  Getting to “yes”, to any hope of an agreement, means listening, understanding and identifying what people want or need.  Learning what’s most important, what the other people need to be okay with a solution is absolutely critical.
  • For whom? I always suggest constantly reminding ourselves whose best interests are we intending to address/protect/support? If the focus is on getting the right decision made for an aging parent…well, there’s the ‘who’.
  • What’s your bottom line?  There’s always a bottom line.  Meaning, each of us has boundaries.  We need to be honest and direct about those things that are non-negotiable.  The things that we will not do.  Trust me, you’ll be beating your head against a wall and wasting a lot of time trying to negotiate a non-negotiable position.
  • Is it “my way or the highway”?  Resolving conflict means being  flexible.  It’s a balance, though.  Don’t be too flexible or sooner or later unresolved feelings will emerge…and the problem won’t really be solved at all.
  • Do we have agreement on a solution?  Get a commitment.  Seriously.  Verbally reaffirm. Get a “yes” or “I agree” from everyone.  In some families, the meeting and agreements get documented..I highly recommend that path.

Not all conflicts get resolved.

It’s a harsh reality, but sometimes families end up being unwilling to work together.  Sometimes, families turn to pastoral counsel or legal remediation. And, sometimes, families do not heal their conflict.

In the end.

Personally, I believe we are each responsible to ourselves.  So, when it comes to caring for a loved one, I suggest asking: Am I doing the best I can do?  Have I honored their wishes?  Have I helped them get what they need?  Have I acted out of love?  If we can answer “yes” to these things, we’ve done well.  Because, in the end that’s all that really matters.

Deb Kelsey-Davis  is a healthcare professional and family caregiving advocate and expert.  She is a digital health innovator who is passionate about placing the patient, their caregiver & the human spirit at the center of healthcare. She’s also an author, speaker and co-founder of Nourish for Caregivers, a faith-based program to care for the caregiver…as well as co-founder of Sagacity.Care, providing a digital solution to provide an easier, better way to manage you and your family’s important health information and coordinate your loved one’s care with their healthcare team.



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