Caregiving for an older parent can be a daunting task and a difficult one to do alone. Distributing the burden among siblings can make it easier so no single person becomes overwhelmed.
However, gathering the cooperation of siblings presents its own challenges. Difficult logistics, complicated family dynamics, and grief-based disbelief can all be factors for why siblings sometimes choose to skip out on caregiving responsibilities.
What is a caregiver to do?
Well, somewhere between taking “no” for an answer and having a blow-up fight is a middle ground where caregivers of older parents can move their siblings toward a willing, greater level of contribution.
We take a look at three common reasons siblings don’t fully participate in the care of their older loved one and offer tips to navigate around those objections.
‘No one ever asked me’
One of the common traps caretakers fall into is assuming that other people know all of what is involved in caregiving and how they could step in and be helpful. After all, an undone task is front-of-mind to the person providing the care. But it isn’t necessarily obvious to someone who hasn’t provided care before.
So the first step to getting more help is to ask for it. Be specific: “Mom has a new doctor’s appointment on Wednesdays. That’s normally the day I do her grocery shopping. Would you be willing to do one of those for her, and I’ll do the other?”
Another trap family caregivers can fall into is inertia. The sibling who lived closest or had the most time available might have picked up most of the caregiving tasks in the beginning, but it wasn’t supposed to be for forever. Take time to regularly re-evaluate who is doing what and if that still makes the most sense.
A different kind of inertia is when well-worn patterns, often rooted in childhood, can play out in the roles each sibling takes on in caregiving. The older siblings might have been “in charge” a lot growing up, but that doesn’t mean the youngest can’t take a decision-making role now. Roles that made sense at age 6 should not dictate behavior at age 46.
Caregiving is a slippery slope. Often, caregivers slip into the role without realizing it, as their parent’s needs grow over time. If the person most involved in caretaking doesn’t notice what’s happening, siblings who are more removed can also miss it and be slow to be convinced of how much care is actually needed.
Asking a sibling to help with a task they think their parent can do on their own will often lead to resistance. Overcoming that resistance is possible, however.
One way to demonstrate the scope of care required is for caregivers to keep a log of the activities they help with. They can also have a doctor, nurse, social worker, or geriatric care manager assess their parent. Such an assessment by a third-party professional can go a long way toward convincing skeptical siblings.
‘I live too far away’
This excuse might have worked in the ’80s, but the internet allows for a lot of tasks to be completed from a distance that used to require proximity.
Although out-of-state siblings still can’t do hands-on caregiving, such as cooking a meal, they can order groceries online and have them delivered. If an in-town sibling is becoming overwhelmed with responsibilities, an out-of-town sibling can research home health aides to help relieve the burden. They can arrange lawn service, maid service, or pay the monthly bills.
Benefits of a Team Approach
Taking a team approach to caregiving helps prevent the burden of caregiving from being overwhelming to any one person. It helps brings siblings together so that they’re on the same page when it comes time to make decisions such as whether to seek assisted living.
Are you experiencing other conflicts among your family members? You’re not alone. Download our eBook 11 Most Common Caregiving Challenges for a more in-depth look at common family conflicts that can occur when siblings are caring for their parents or when your parents don’t want help.