Mitigating family conflict for your loved one’s sake

Family conflict at the end of a parent’s life is sometimes inevitable. The irony is that such conflict stands in stark contrast to the reality that a parent wants to see their adult children get along after they die.

Knowing the triggers of family conflict can assist in determining whether conflict can be avoided or is sadly inevitable.

Girls Looking At Each OtherThe five most common triggers of family conflict are:

  • Arguments over distribution of money and assets after death, including homes, antiques, keepsakes
  • Rifts in the family that caregiver stress causes
  • Dysfunctional relationships between siblings and parent and child and old hurts which have not yet healed
  • Siblings and parents who live in different parts of the country and who do not communicate frequently enough
  • Sibling wealth disparity

Despite a history of dysfunction in a family, there are ways to prevent conflict from exploding. A third party is sometimes needed to make decisions. Sometimes, just transparency and disclosure will help. Other times, with a little more help and understanding, the children can make it through and help their parents maintain their dignity as well as family harmony.

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  1. Many conflicts are based on suspicion of bad actions and lack of trust. In some instances, sharing information freely, providing access to mom and/or dad, and making decisions collaboratively will ease or eliminate conflict.
  1. For each adult sibling, identify what goal he or she wants to achieve, what information is needed, and who will research it.
  1. Actively listen to the other person’s point of view. People cannot listen to someone else’s point of view until they feel someone has listened to their own point of view first.
  1. Is there a family member who has a severe personality defect or mental illness?
  1. During active listening, identify a person’s interests in the conflict and consider why they have those interests including needs, wishes, values, aspirations, fears, and concerns. Make a point of checking in with the other person to make sure that you understand their point and that they feel both heard and understood. Understanding the why can be the basis of finding a solution.
  1. Separate a person’s interests from their positions on issues. Think of positions as their “conclusions” on an issue which may include: their opinions, their solution, their “non-negotiables”, etc.
  1. After you identify issues and positions, determine viable options through brainstorming options, considering those options, and evaluating them in detail.
  1. Include the loved one’s voice and wishes in the decisions.
  1. If things get tough, get mediation.
  1. Get attorneys involved. Generally, they are level headed and scream at each other far less than fighting family members do.