When the health of an elderly parent starts to decline, typically one sibling steps in to become the primary caregiver. The demands start out small. Care is easy at first. But as care demands more time and money, stress builds and so can resentment toward non-contributing family members. Old rivalries and jealousies raise their head and get in the way. The fights are typically over money and time, the two elements contributing the most to caregiver stress. So what do you do? If you want help caring for an elderly parent, you need to convince your brothers and sisters of it or find that help outside the family. With that as a background, here are 10 tips to dealing with unhelpful siblings:
- Accept that there is no such thing as “fairness” when it comes to family care giving. Someone in the family always shoulders a disproportionate amount of the load. Life is like that. Should it be that way? No. But wishing for something different only makes matters worse.
- Open up the lines of communication with every family member, even those you don’t always get along with. Let them decide how much they want to be involved.
- Have a family meeting to get everyone’s viewpoint on elder care needs. What you are seeing may not be what others see. What you think is critical may not be and vice versa. Having other viewpoints can be helpful.
- Do it now. Waiting only makes matters worse. Don’t assume someone else in the family will take charge.
- Put aside your “shoulds” and focus on the taking care of your elderly parents. It simply doesn’t matter what you believe your siblings should do. What does matter is getting the help your aging parent needs, whether it’s from your siblings or outside the family. The plain, simple truth is you can’t change someone else. Only they can do that. Obsessing about it and “shoulding” on them only makes your life more stressful. None of this is about you anyway. It is about managing the care of an aging parent.
- List all of the support your parent may need. Be specific: fixing meals, bathing, managing the checkbook, grocery shopping, taking dad to doctor appointments, calls to advisors, picking up medications, checking out caregivers or living facilities, etc. When you need help be exact: “I have a doctor’s appointment next Friday and need someone to sit with mom. Could you drop by no later than 9 am for about 2 hours?”
- Identify and contact help available in the community. You’ll need it. Expect to roll up your shirt sleeves, too. It may take a lot of phone calls to find the resources you need. Start with your local Agency on Aging and the senior ministry at your place of worship. If you live in a large city, dial 2-1-1. If you work for a larger corporation, ask your human relations department what elder care resources they offer.
- Accept whatever help each sibling is able and willing to provide. No one knows how another person thinks or feels or what’s going on in their life. One of my clients could not understand why her oldest sister would offer to help, but frequently welched on the promise. Later she learned her sister had enormous health problems of her own but didn’t want to burden the rest of the family with it.
- Your attitude makes all the difference. Sure, it’s hard not to be mad when no one else helps. You only hurt yourself, though. Stress is not so much what’s happening to you as it is how you respond to it. Focus attention on the positives. Be thankful for those who help if and when they do. Beyond that pay no attention to those who under-serve.
- Use outside sources to defuse persistent emotional land mines. Consider turning to a professional elder care mediator. The specialty is relatively new but growing. They offer a respectful solution to family conflicts over the care of an aging parent. They offer a pathway to peace and family healing.
The bottom line here is to focus only on what you can accomplish for your mom or dad. Resenting siblings for not chipping in makes you feel worse and accomplishes nothing. If it is not in your sister’s heart to help, you can’t put it there. Accept the help you get. Do what you know you can do and find outside help for the rest. With the right information, you can reduce caregiver stress, keep your life in balance, save money and get better care for your elderly parents.
©Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. 35 Arnold Street, New Bedford, MA 02740, 336 South Street, Hyannis MA 02601 and 45 Bristol Drive, Easton MA 02375. This article is for illustration purposes only. This handout does not constitute legal advice. There is no attorney/client relationship created with Surprenant & Beneski, P.C. by this article. DO NOT make decisions based upon information in this handout. Every family is unique and legal advice can only be given after an individual consultation with an elder law attorney. Any decisions made without proper legal advice may cause significant legal and financial problems.