For some families, working as adult siblings to care for aging parents can be almost as challenging as providing the care itself. According to an Alzheimer’s Association survey, the top two stressors for caregivers are lack of appreciation and strain between siblings. However, the survey also found that the relationship between siblings was “equally as likely to be strained as it was to be strengthened.”
When you work with your siblings as a team, it not only makes the job a little easier because you can vent your frustrations to one another and get support, but it can also strengthen your sibling bonds.
Getting to Know You
Caregiving is a constant learning experience. Not only will you learn about activities of daily living and long-term care options, but you’ll also get the chance to work with your siblings and care for your parents.
“These are adults who haven’t had to work together in that fashion maybe ever or not since they were children,” says Barry J. Jacobs, a Clinical Psychologist, Health Care Consultant, and Author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers. “They don’t have experience working together as a team. They don’t know each other’s capabilities that well, especially if they’ve been strewn across the country. They have stereotypical perceptions of one another — ‘He’s the bossy one.’ ‘She’s the nurturing one.’ — without really knowing the demands of the caregiving situation and what any one sibling can do.
“In the course of working together,” Jacobs continues, “they have to figure all that out. Who is really good at managing the budget? Who is really good at dealing with doctors? Who is really good at talking to Mom?”
The average duration of a caregiver’s role is four years, which means lots of family meetings. Family meetings offer opportunities for:
- The parents to share their wants and needs
- The hands-on siblings to clarify the parents’ needs and explain all they do
- The other siblings a chance to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions, and brainstorm how they can pitch in
“Care plans continually need to be revisited,” Jacobs says. “That ongoing negotiation, adaptation, adjustment, respect, pulling together as best they can to get things done — that’s how siblings’ relationships are strengthened.”
Listening to Stories
If your parent’s declining health can is breaking your family apart, keep the focus on what is best for your parent. Instead of arguing about who is going to drive Mom to the doctor or who is going to go grocery shopping for Dad, offer aging parents some special moments of their own.
StoryCorps offers some great questions to get conversations flowing. You might gain a new perspective on your parents and learn something about yourself or your siblings. Here are a few you might want to ask:
- Who has been the most important person in your life? Can you tell me about him or her?
- What was the happiest moment of your life? The saddest?
- Who has been the biggest influence on your life? What lessons did that person teach you?
- What are the most important lessons you’ve learned in life?
- What are you proudest of?
- If you could hold on to one memory from your life forever, what would that be?
- How has your life been different than what you’d imagined?
- Is there anything that you’ve never told me but want to tell me now?
- Is there something about me that you’ve always wanted to know but have never asked?
If dealing with your siblings over a parent’s care is just too difficult, complex, or emotional, find support and help elsewhere. If you have responsible cousins, a stable spouse, or even a best friend, they can often provide emotional or practical support. You don’t have to go it alone: Support groups, blogs, and friends who have been caregivers themselves can provide a place to vent or to find help and support.
For more tips about navigating adult sibling relationships, download Brothers and Sisters, a guide to resolving sibling conflict when making assisted living decisions.