All in the Family: How Siblings Can Manage and Share Caregiving Responsibilities

Coping with caregiving responsibilities can be overwhelming[1. “6 Signs of Caregiver Burnout,” December 31, 2011,], and is often best handled by multiple people. Do you have a family who can get involved in providing for an older parent? If so, sharing caregiving tasks among siblings is often a great way to lessen the stress. However, as with all families, issues tend to arise when tackling a complex problem like this.
But don’t worry: there are ways to use your family’s dynamics to have a positive effect on providing care – and on your mental health as well!

When Caregiving Is a One-way Street

Caregiving often becomes a “one-way” street, but not on purpose. In other words, one person becomes the de-facto provider for their parent (or parents) without meaning to. Often, it’s the child who lives closest, or has the best relationship with the parent that is “chosen.” Other times, children who work part-time, or are in between jobs, are expected to spend every spare moment looking after their parents.
Frequently, siblings don’t bother to pitch in – or even think about it – because it doesn’t occur to them that there’s a problem. At that point, caregiving can become almost full time without the original provider even realizing it. It isn’t until resentment and fatigue creep in that you realize the situation can’t continue like this.

How to Provide Care as a Family

The first step in providing care as a family is to call a family meeting. You should do this as soon as you notice that caregiving has become too much for you[2. “Caregiver stress fact sheet,” July 6, 2012,] — and preferably before. Make sure everyone knows what challenges you and your parent are currently facing. If you don’t feel comfortable hosting the meeting alone, consider getting an outside professional to help you. It’s also a good idea to come to the meeting armed with a clinician’s assessment of your parent’s needs.
Since scheduling meetings like these can be difficult (especially if siblings live far apart), take advantages of technological tools like Skype. Similarly, methods like email, instant messaging, or even shared Google docs can keep everyone up to date on providing care — once the details are ironed out.
Finally, determine what each person’s contribution will be. It could involve time, money, or even emotional support. It’s crucial to make clear exactly what each person will do and how often, as well as how the family will coordinate these services.

When You Need More Sibling Support

At times, you may need more support than your siblings are willing to provide. So what do you do if they’re reluctant to take on caregiving responsibilities? Here are a few tips:

  • Be careful of how you ask. Making your sibling feel guilty for not providing enough will only make them feel defensive. Instead, present caregiving as an opportunity to be part of the family team, and to make a real difference in your parent’s life.
  • Ask what they’re willing to provide. Caregiving doesn’t have to be an all-or-nothing scenario. If they can’t visit Mom two days a week, try asking them for one – as well as a few dollars to hire a home health aide several hours a week.
  • Get outside support. Just like holding a family meeting, sometimes certain members need to hear from a professional how important their contribution can be. A reputable home health agency can provide you with a geriatrician, social worker, or other expert to explain the situation.

Caregiving Responsibilities Don’t Have to Be Borne Alone

Sibling relationships can be difficult, even without involving caregiving responsibilities. But it’s important to realize that you’re all coming together for a common goal: to give the best to your parent or parents. By keeping that in mind, you can come up with a solution that’s fair to everyone, and provides the support that you and your loved one deserve.
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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