How to Care for Parents With Your Siblings
Don't let family tension stand in the way of helping parents
Providing care for parents can be complicated.
When your brothers and sisters are also involved, it can become even more complex.
While your siblings can be enormously helpful and your best support, they can also be a source of stress.
Things will go easier if you can identify family dynamics that may impact caregiving, figure out what help you need and how to ask for it and deal calmly with emotions that arise along the way. Here are eight steps to help you work cooperatively in caring for a parent.
- Accept your siblings as they are Looking after your parents may have you once again competing against brothers and sister, only this time the fights are over caregiving: who does or doesn’t do it; how much; and who’s in charge.Try to accept your siblings—and your parents—as they really are, not who you wish they were. Families are complicated and never perfect. There are no "shoulds" about how people feel. They are not bad people or bad children if they don't feel the same as you do. If you can accept this, you are likelier to get more support from them, or, at least, less conflict.
- Don't over-simplify It's easy to assume that you are completely right and your siblings are all wrong—or lazy, irresponsible, uncaring, etc. Each person has a different relationship with your parent, and each person's outlook is bound to be different.
- Ask yourself what you really want from your siblings Before you can ask for what you want, you need to figure this out, and that's not always as simple as it seems. First of all, ask yourself whether you really, deep-down, want help. Many caregivers say they do but actually discourage help. So think hard. Do you want them to do certain tasks regularly? Do you want them to give you time off once in a while? Or do you feel you have everything under control but you'd like them to contribute money for services or respite?
- Ask for emotional support from siblings if you need it Many caregivers feel lonely, isolated and unappreciated. If you'd like your siblings to check in on you more, ask them to call once a week. And tell them it would really help if they would say "thanks" or tell you you're doing a good job. They are more likely to do this if you don't criticize them for what they are not doing.
- Watch how you ask for help Avoid making your siblings feel guilty. Guilt makes people uncomfortable and defensive. They might get angry, minimize or criticize what you are doing, or avoid you. Be careful of your tone and language when you request something. It's not always easy to hear the way we sound to others. You might think you are asking for help in a nice way, but if you're angry, that's the tone your siblings will hear. And they're likely to react in unhelpful ways.
- Seek help from a professional if needed Families have long, complicated histories, and during this very emotional passage, it is often hard to communicate with each other without overreacting, misinterpreting or fighting old battles. Even the healthiest families can sometimes use the help of an objective professional. People like family therapists, social workers, geriatric care managers, physicians or clergy can help siblings establish what is real about a parent's health and needs in order to help distribute responsibilities more equitably. In family meetings, they can help you stay focused on the topic at hand and help you avoid bringing up old arguments.
- Steer clear of power struggles over your parent's assignment of legal powers Whether or not you have been given your parent's legal powers over finances or health, you need to remember that it is your parent who has made these decisions. If you have your mom's or dad's power of attorney, be sure to keep detailed records and send your siblings statements about how you have spent Mom's money. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but record-keeping is required by law, and being open will reduce distrust or distortion—and lawsuits.
- Don't let inheritance disputes tear your family apart If you feel wronged by the way your parents have divided their money and property, it's natural to be upset, especially when you are grieving. You may feel that you deserve more because you have cared for your parents. If that's what you feel, you need to discuss this with your parents while they are alive and can make these decisions. If you suspect foul play by another sibling then this is the time to consult an attorney or Adult Protective Services.