Dear Family Advisor

How to Stop Daughters Fighting About Your Care

Last updated: Nov 08, 2011

Whitetail deer fighting

We've always been a close family. But now that I need care (I have multiple sclerosis and am in a wheelchair, requiring daily assistance), my daughters are starting to bicker about who does what, what needs to be done, whom I should live closer to . . . the list goes on.

I hate this! It kills me to see my girls fighting, especially about me. I've told them that if this keeps up, I'll go into a care facility (even though I'm only 72 and my mind is sharp), just so they won't have me as an excuse to tear into each other.

Is there any way to get them to stop?

First, step away from feeling responsible for your daughter's feud. Fighting is what siblings do. Jealousy and competitiveness come with family life, and neither you nor your situation caused this. There's relief in realizing that your family is not perfect (no one's is) and is just acting normal. In fact, the less you get involved with their tiff, the better. You're like the oxygen that fans the flames.

Since your mind is sharp, continue to make decisions that are best for you -- and don't worry about whether that pleases or upsets one or another caregiver. I firmly believe that what's best for you is best for everyone. We're all interconnected, and when one person is clear and at peace, it ripples out to everyone around them. So don't think about pleasing them. You're doing everyone a favor by being an example of self-care and self-reliance. As much as possible, this is exactly what you should be doing. Having a disease takes away much of your power, but don't give it all away. There's joy that comes with creating a vibrant life of your own making.

Then remember that caregiving can do things to our heads. We can feel needed in good and not-so-good ways. We can take on a caregiver-superhero or martyr mentality. One or both of your daughters might like "claiming" you. You make them look good -- it's human nature for them to feel that way -- and I'm sure they're also truly concerned about you. Their concern translates into trying to help you and "fix" your situation a little too much. I'm sure their motives are mostly centered around their love and devotion -- but I also factor in that we're a mixed bag when it comes to motives, and we never stop being ourselves. I bet you can look back at what kind of children they were and see a few patterns that are still in play today. Get back to how you resolved issues in the past. One might be a pouter who needs time to get over a hurt, while the other might like a big fight and then feel like it's all over. People don't change much, so tap into what you already know about your daughters to help get back to a place of balance.

Lay out all your living options. If your best living scenario is being closer to one daughter than the other (simply because the location happens to be the best fit), then go with that. Factor in safety, close amenities, activities, and other needs and desires that suit you. It's true that you certainly need your family, but you also need other kinds of support -- friends, connections, your medical team, physical therapy, swimming, even acupuncture or other types of modality support. By looking at the whole picture and making a solid plan, you'll help your daughters start to realize that you're the one planning your life -- and that it might not revolve around them.

When you have your thoughts in place, call your girls together and explain your well-considered plan to them. It's not up for negotiation. Yes, you'll compromise; but I suggest that you begin by stating what you want and need. They'll respect that you've done your homework and that you're still capable of overseeing your own life and plans.

If it gets ugly, then pull the mom card. Bring your daughters together and in a firm voice say, "Enough!" Remind them that you're not their pawn; this is your life and you're nowhere near being down for the count. Tell them that though you love and need them, they have to respect your choices -- and that this bickering has to stop now. Most of us are conditioned to listen to our parents, especially when they get tough and we know they mean business.

In the meantime, find ways to just be mom and daughters again. Go antiquing, to a movie, or even to the zoo -- something that conjures up reminders that being the Three Musketeers can be fun. Don't get too worried about family squabbles. They'll flare up and subside again and again. That's what families do. It's how we learn and grow. Just keep reminding yourself and your girls that you are family, and families work it out.