Brothers and Sisters and Parents. Oh My.

Senior Lifestyle

By Carol Combs, MSW, Oxford’s Memory Care Coordinator

Caring for a parent is hard. And sometimes, often in spite of the best of intentions, siblings can make that care more complicated. Often, one child becomes the primary caregiver for a parent and may become resentful that other siblings aren’t helping as much as they could. Some siblings may skirt caregiving responsibilities with excuses of “I don’t have enough time,” or “I just don’t have the money.” Sometimes one sibling might refuse help or advice from others, certain they can best handle things by themselves.

Many families don’t take time to consider the best supporting role each member could play while caring for a parent. There is a lot to do, but by supporting each other and sharing responsibilities, families can make caregiving a success. Share the load. Pitch in. There are always ways to help. Make phone calls, offer emotional support, run errands, or simply give someone a break.

When it comes to caring for a parent, brothers and sisters have to work together, and communication is the key to working together.

Family meetings can be instrumental in determining roles, pooling resources, and allowing everyone a voice. Open communication is the best way to overcome disagreements, resolve conflict, and reach consensus on the hard decisions your family faces.

But teamwork takes effort. There may be disagreement on what is best for your parent. Conflicts may arise out of present anxiety and fear of what lies ahead. Caring for a parent may re-ignite sibling rivalries thought long since over.

The best way to handle these struggles is often to simply acknowledge them and discuss them honestly. Admit your concerns and limitations, and embrace those of your brothers and sisters. Remember that you’re all after the same thing: what is best for your parent.

Sometimes it is best to agree to disagree. If you reach an impasse, consider involving an impartial observer, such as a social worker or counselor who can help families work through issues and stay focused on the task at hand.

Consider these tips for winning support from your siblings:

  • Ask for help clearly and directly. Be specific.
  • Be realistic—don’t ask for the impossible.
  • Try to accept your siblings as who they are, not who you wish they were.
  • Listen to your siblings’ concerns openly, without judgment, and carefully consider their feedback.
  • Consider the relationship your sibling has with your parent and look for tasks that work within that relationship. If your sister can’t be with mom for long without arguing, send her out shopping, or ask her to do some paperwork.
  • Be careful how you ask for help. If your tone reflects anger, your brothers and sisters are more likely to react in unhelpful ways.
  • Avoid making your siblings feel guilty. Guilt makes people uncomfortable and defensive, which only hurts things in the long run.
  • If your family isn’t able to assist with caregiving, explore outside resources for help.
  • Perhaps most importantly, be sure to take care of yourself. You have to be healthy to be up to the challenge of caregiving.

Families have long, complicated histories, and with the challenges of caregiving it is often hard to communicate without overreacting or misinterpreting. Dealing with siblings over parent care can be difficult, complex and emotional, but it is important to understand your emotions and to try to have sympathy for your siblings’ feelings as well, even when you disagree.

Family dynamics were in place prior to the need for parent care, and you may not be able to resolve existing conflicts to your satisfaction right now. The important thing now is to get support for yourself so you can find peace during your caregiving journey.

Oxford Health Care offers numerous home care programs that can provide you the help, support and relief you need, so you can enjoy time with your loved one and continue to care for them at home. If you have questions, our Care Coordinators will be happy to assist you.