Has family caregiving caused some conflicts among you and your siblings? It can feel unfair when you are pulling more weight than others. And managing your aging parents’ care can be stressful enough as it is. This could and should be a special time that you’re sharing with your parents in their later years, and you certainly don’t want family resentments getting in the way. Even when it seems as if you’re alone carrying all of these responsibilities, you never have to be. Let’s talk about how you can find the help you need, including how you can try to get your siblings to help with the care of your aging parents.
It’s important to keep in mind your primary goals. Chances are good that everyone in the family can agree on the goals of compassionate care for your parents and their best possible quality of life. Even though the share of responsibilities may never be perfectly equal, there are ways to work together toward these common goals. After all, when your parents are in good hands, healthy, and happy, the rest of you can breathe more deeply and give focus to the other areas of your life.
How Can You Get Siblings to Help with Aging Parents?
Of course, there are many reasons a brother or sister may not be contributing to your parents’ regular care: lack of time, limited skills, interpersonal conflicts. Or they may simply be disinterested. You might not be able to inspire their interest, but there are ways to make their contributions more practical, more fitting, and more welcome. In fact, they may not even realize that you need their help.
The first step in rounding out your aging parent’s plan of care is to cultivate open and extensive communication. It’s never too late to start a conversation about what’s working, what isn’t working, and how you can better share and manage the various caregiving responsibilities. And it’s never reasonable to expect your siblings to read your mind about how you would wish for them to be contributing. Instead, it’s important for everyone to feel as if they can express their feelings openly. But remember that while people may be feeling frustrated and wanting to place blame, the more you can focus on constructive steps, the better the situation will play out for everyone.
Now is the time to set in place some strategies and expectations around communication to better organize your lives and shared responsibilities and to mitigate conflicts in the process. Here are some tips in that direction:
- Invite everyone to take a quiz to determine their communication styles. In this way, you can keep in mind the best strategies for communicating effectively with each other and with your aging parent.
- Schedule a regular conversation that you can all participate in to continue evaluating the family caregiving situation. Perhaps a weekly check-in is necessary, or perhaps every month or every other month will be sufficient. This doesn’t have to happen with everyone present; if distance or schedule requires it, you or your siblings can participate through the phone or video conferencing.
- Keep everyone up to date on any developments. Especially if you are in the role of primary caregiver who spends the most time with your parents, it can help if you transfer your caregiver notes into an email at the end of every week or so to update your siblings about doctors appointments, challenges, and the positive events and milestones.
- Be sure to include your aging parent in the discussions whenever possible and appropriate. Remember that their input and preferences are vital for designing the best possible plan for caregiving.
Once you have a more productive connection among the siblings, you can begin to think creatively about the best ways for each individual to contribute to your parents’ thriving future.
Consider Everyone’s Individual Strengths and Skills for Family Caregiving
Not everyone is cut out to be a primary family caregiver. They may not have the time or the temperament for it. Or they may live too far away. But that doesn’t mean there’s no way for them to significantly contribute to the caregiving efforts.
As you sit down to consider the current health of your overall family caregiving plan, ask everyone to think about their particular strengths and interests—and ways they might contribute where they aren’t already. For example, one sibling might find that offering a few hours of respite care every weekend for a parent with Alzheimer’s is not something she’s comfortable doing alone, but she’s perfectly comfortable and adept at handling her mother’s finances every month—and she can take care of it more easily and efficiently than anyone else.
Here are some ideas for diverse tasks—beyond daily personal care— that can make a big difference in the overall caregiving picture. There are even opportunities here for siblings who live far away to help out remotely:
- Managing bills and finances
- Attending to home repairs and upgrades to ensure safety and accessibility—whether someone does it themselves or hires someone else
- Handling phone calls with insurance agencies and other service providers
- Serving as an advocate at the doctor’s and other appointments
- Offering regular or occasional respite care so the primary caregiver can rest or take care of personal tasks
- Organizing paperwork, including medical records
- Helping to set up and maintain a computer or tablet situation that your aging parent can to chat with friends and relatives from a distance, play games and exercise their cognitive muscles, browse family photos, or read and write with assistive technologies
The list does not end here. Together, you can come up with plenty more possibilities based on your particular interests and abilities. And you’ll be able to shine a light on additional needs too as time goes on and the caregiving dynamics evolve.
Consider the Caregiving Assistance You Can Access Outside of the Family
Even with multiple siblings working together to care for elderly parents, families often need outside help. And this extra assistance is often the boost that rounds everything out—improving the parents’ lives and the siblings’ lives because there’s some extra confidence and breathing room.
With the same goals of exceptional care and quality of life for your parents, you can consider having in-home assistance on a daily basis, to cover night shifts, or for occasional respite care. You can also consider a Social Day program that will give you a break and provide your parent with the opportunity to spend time in a regular community of friends with movement and enrichment activities, among other specialized programming.
There may also be types of care that you and your siblings are simply unable to fulfill. For example, your parent may need professional counseling or psychotherapy to support their mental and behavioral health. They may need professional financial management services or a knowledgeable care manager who can help to connect your aging parents with all of the services and resources available to enhance their lives now. As a family, you may even need family-based therapy to help you communicate compassionately and constructively. Just know that there is always help ready and waiting. However your family caregiving plan develops around the available resources will be positive momentum. You and your parent will both benefit from the support of the family and your wider community.
Are you unsure of the particular help your family may need or how to find it? At Institute on Aging, we can help guide you toward your best plan for family caregiving. And we offer wide-ranging services and resources to support that plan. Get in touch with us today to learn more.