Avoid arguments about money with aging family members


Caregivers, caregivers, and other family members may take different positions on these issues and then get angry at each other. The result can be resentment that tears families apart during and after the foster years. How can caregiving families avoid such conflicts and divisions? Here are a few ideas:

Reduce the heat

Because caring decisions about money are laden with charged family issues like fairness and love, they quickly become emotionally heated. This often leads to family members raising their backs and being justifiably outraged. How dare you withhold your contribution to the cost of care, one could accuse the other. How dare you force me to pay without understanding my situation, the other might reply. Their heated arguments will be unresolvable unless they can first establish some ground rules for maintaining a respectful tone when airing their differences — without raising voices, pointing blame, or intentionally hurtful barbs.

empathy always

It’s not enough not to get angry. In the best of all possible worlds, where everyone is at their best, family members would show understanding and compassion for one another—even if they had conflicting viewpoints. When conflicting (not awkward) family members feel heard, understood, and, yes, cared for, the bond between them is strengthened. Their empathy for each other will reinforce each other and yet can serve as a basis for later agreement on the same money issues.

Use group decisions for big questions

One strategy to help caregivers avoid constant financial conflict is to treat small and big issues differently. When it comes to the small decisions that need to be made every day—such as which doctor to see or which pharmacy to go to—all other family members should undoubtedly defer to the judgment of their primary caregiver. When it comes to more consequential decisions—such as selling the family home to fund the care of a parent—all family members, including those who are not on the front lines every day, should have their opinions heard and respected. It is often the family members who feel unheard who protest the loudest and spark the most heated debates.

Consider professional help

If family caregivers still cannot find a way to stop fighting over money, they should consider meeting with a counselor, family therapist, or elder mediator. You are trained to deal with emotions, clarify points and articulate acceptable compromises. They help prevent further damage to already injured family relationships.

Barry J Jacobsa clinical psychologist, family therapist and health counselor, is co-author of Love and meaning after 50: The 10 challenges to great relationships — and how to overcome them and AARP Meditations for Caregivers. Keep following him Twitter and Facebook.


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