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We just had the nastiest argument my sibs and I have ever had, and it was about the future of our family cottage. My parents are old and their care needs are increasing. This cottage discussion got complicated and ugly. I’m distraught by what happened....

Family cottage becomes subject of hurtful argument: Caregiver SOS | Toronto Star

We just had the nastiest argument my sibs and I have ever had, and it was about the future of our family cottage. My parents are old and their care needs are increasing. This cottage discussion got complicated and ugly. I’m distraught by what happened....

Family cottage becomes subject of hurtful argument: Caregiver SOS | Toronto Star

We just had the nastiest argument my sibs and I have ever had, and it was about the future of our family cottage. My parents are old and their care needs are increasing. This cottage discussion got complicated and ugly. I’m distraught by what happened.

Signed, Northern Mess

The cottage is a place that most of my older adult patients cite as bringing up good memories of family time, thoughts of kids growing up and social gatherings. Sadly, the cottage is also a topic that many times leads to some of the most awful and controversial family disputes. This often arises from a hurt child or siblings who are watching their parents’ plans unravel. It can result in family members not talking to each other and ultimately, the family being ripped apart. The family cottage can also have an impact on parental care and has been noted to affect adult children making decisions for their parents’ future needs. This often happens, whether purposely or inadvertently, as sibling conflicts are acted out in the parents care plan.

You are in a good situation if your parent is cognitively able to do some planning and organizing in advance. Tammy Anklewicz, estates lawyer, states: “One of the most common mistake that parents make is in trying to avoid planning and leaving it to the kids to work out instead”. An estate lawyer can help plan what is needed and how to best avoid unwanted complications. Meeting as a family and good communication are often invaluable. Succession planning and frank discussion can facilitate the process. If your parent is cognitively intact, encourage them to do this planning for you and your siblings, even if they don’t feel they need to. A good lawyer will encourage them not to pick one sibling over another, settle scores or make complicated and possibly poor tax choices.

Many families that end up in “cottage wars” have told me they wished they had sold the cottage earlier and that all the “ugliness” could have been avoided. They talk about how the cash that each of them would have received ultimately would have made everybody happy. Emotions, ideals and the hopes of recreating good family times are what most people wish for, but on a practical level this might not be easy as families grow.

If you are already in this difficult situation with siblings, it is imperative that you separate your parents’ needs from the cottage drama at hand. Much like a divorce, you may need to learn to do what is best for mom and/or dad and work with siblings that have hurt your feelings or that you do not respect. Although the backdrop of a dispute is hard to forget, the overlying question should always be: how you can be a helpful caregiver to your parents in their time of need? Try to deal with your pain, anger and disappointment with a skilled health professional. They can help you determine what is really important in eldercare. If you and your siblings ultimately cannot move forward with what is in your parents’ best interests, maybe you can find someone who can. Ultimately, don’t double the hurt for your parents. It will only complicate your situation.

Nira Rittenberg is an occupational therapist who specializes in geriatrics and dementia care at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre and in private practice. She is co-author of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide, available at www.baycrest.org/dacg Email questions to [email protected]

Nira Rittenberg is an occupational therapist who specializes in geriatrics and dementia care at Baycrest Health Sciences Centre and in private practice. She is co-author of Dementia: A Caregiver's Guide, available at www.baycrest.org/dacg Email questions to [email protected]

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