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Siblings Discover Roles While Giving Care to Family Members

Each brother and sister finds out what's best to help the family


Family Caregiver Alliance

Issues between siblings in caregiving families are a common concerns. Family dynamics and sibling roles are emphasized in any family crisis or stressful situation. Facing the long-term care of a family member is indeed a family crisis.

It is really important to recognize that individuals react to stressors in many different ways. The sibling who is most likely to take on the primary caregiving role can often look back over time and see that he or she tends to respond by mobilizing resources and taking a "hands-on" approach to managing difficult situations.

Others may not be as comfortable with the same level of involvement. Tasks that can be accomplished from a distance and require less emotional or "hands on" involvement may appeal more to these family members. In fact, they may be willing — if not relieved — to be given an assignment or a list of tasks, e.g., "I need you to drive Dad to the doctor on Thursday," or "Please pick up this prescription tomorrow." Others may be able to contribute financially, if not emotionally.

Many successful caregiving families report that they have divided up the responsibilities according to individual preferences and capacity. This way, everyone feels that they are contributing and the burden for the primary caregiver is significantly lightened. A family meeting can often accomplish these kinds of agreements.

Other siblings may become withdrawn and prefer not to be involved at all. This can cause great resentment from the more active participants. However, it appears that those who prefer no involvement are often still carrying unresolved family issues, which only they can work through themselves.

When it begins to feel like your burden is increased due to others’ non-participation, ask for specific kinds of help that these individuals would be able to provide. Asking for help directly may give the individual an opportunity to offer what they can. If the answer is "no,"then it is time to remind yourself to let go of what you cannot change and work with the resources that are available to you.

In many communities, resources — like adult day care centers or "friendly visitor" programs — are already in place to assist caregivers, even if siblings are not being very supportive. We encourage you to research services available in your community.

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