How do I help remedy a sibling conflict about our dad's care?

A fellow caregiver asked...

At a family meeting, one member was "beaten up" by four others. He left, despite his father's desire that he be the caregiver. He is very hurt. How do I help remedy this situation?

Expert Answer

Jonathan Rosenfeld is a psychotherapist in private practice in San Francisco.

It must be very stressful to be in a family where one member can be "beaten up" by others. Was this a unique event or has this been going on for years in one form or another? If so, is it always the same person who gets ganged up on, or does the victim change every time? Did you or your father or anyone else try to intercede on behalf of your brother, and if not, why not? As you can see, I have a lot of questions I'd like answers to in order to give you the most useful response. Let me try to be of help with the information you provided.

When families face disputes or difficult choices, most people would like to rely on good intentions and love to repair a bad situation. Unfortunately this approach often does not work because as much as they love each other, family members often have very different points of view. We are usually convinced that we're in the right, and that it is the other guy who is acting unloving and ungenerous. If I had the chance to interview everyone in your family who was at the meeting, I'd likely be assured by each one that he or she had the best of intentions, and that someone else was responsible for the mess. I might even hear a response like, "I didn't beat him up, I was just being honest. Isn't honesty a good thing?" Someone else would likely say, "If he's going to melt every time I raise my voice, there's no point talking to him."

As to potential solutions going forward, I think you first need to establish who wants to work with you and why. In any given conflict, you need to understand what others are trying to achieve. In general, people present solutions instead of talking about needs, which leaves families squabbling over who has the best solution, rather than trying to figure out how to best meet everyone's needs.

Perhaps you can speak to everyone individually and figure out what they want, and how much they are willing to compromise.  If it turns out that you are the only one who is motivated to change the situation, then you'll need to look at yourself and what role you play in the family. It might be a good idea to consult a family counselor to get insight into your family dynamics and perhaps serve as a facilitator for a family meeting. Good luck.