Family is the other F word

I need to start with an acknowledgement.  I can’t take credit for coining the title of my blog today.  I first heard this line from my friend Sydney Campanaro (now of A Place for Mom.)  Sydney, I hope you don’t mind.

While this line is funny, it is also sad.  Worse yet, it is all too true.  Families can be horrible to each other.  In my work, it is usually battling siblings that cause the dysfunction.

Often, while Mom and Dad are healthy, siblings manage to keep the peace.  (It’s not much different than spouses who would like to divorce but stay together for the children.)  There may be an undercurrent of strife, but outwardly, the siblings avoid open war.  It’s hard to say what caused the ill feelings.  Maybe one sibling embarrassed another at a terribly awkward time.  (Isn’t that what siblings are for?)  Maybe one stole the other’s boyfriend or girlfriend (or watch, or sneakers, or dress, or baseball glove.)  When I give presentations about battling siblings, I usually suggest that one child broke the blue crayon 50 years ago, and the other children haven’t forgiven him or her.  Who knows what it might be?

When the parents’ age or illness starts to take its toll (or the parents pass away,) the cold war usually ends, and open conflict starts.  If the parents need long term care, the care providers, social workers, and sometimes the elder law attorneys get caught in the middle.  If the parents have passed away, the executor and the probate attorney get caught in the middle.  (If the executor is one of the combatants, the probate attorney may be alone in “no man’s land.”)

I have spoken with a number of social workers with hospitals, assisted living facilities, nursing homes, and in-home care providers, and the same response comes back again and again.  These social workers tell me that 10% of the families they encounter get along and 90% do not.  Those numbers are staggering.

I will admit that my information was not gathered in a scientific manner.  It’s hard to believe that 90% of families whose parents are in long term care fail to get along.  Because my information is based on the impressions of the social workers to whom I’ve spoken, the 90% could come from the amount of time that the social worker’s spend on dysfunctional families.  Or, 90% could be the social workers’ “emotional energy” that dysfunctional families use up.  The numbers are still staggering.

Considering the anger that these siblings sometimes have towards each other, I can understand how social workers feel this way.

I always explain that I resolve family disputes by giving everyone a baseball bat and locking them in a room until a decision is made.  Then I set fire to the place and walk away because no decision will ever come out.  Obviously I can’t resolve disputes this way, but there are times that I want to.

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Jim Koewler’s mission is
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