Tips for managing caregiving responsibilities among siblings.

Sisters with Mom

Tips for managing caregiving responsibilities among siblings

Caring for aging parents or relatives is no easy responsibility. It can be one of the most challenging roles you play. If you are an only child or relative to a senior and helping them manage care, it can be a heavy burden to bear alone. However, when there are multiple siblings or family members who play a part in care management, the waters can be even trickier to navigate.

Here are three tips for overseeing the care of your aging senior along with siblings or family members.

1) Start early

Benjamin Franklin said it best, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.”

If you can start discussions with your siblings even before Mom and Dad need a lot of (or any) care, you’ll start off on the right foot. You’ll likely head off many future arguments. 

In many families, when parents start requiring care, the adult children will either fall into their own assumptions about roles of caregiving (for example, the daughter does the caretaking, while the son covers it financially) or play into the “type” they were in childhood (for example, Sarah was the “responsible” child so she takes on care, while Claire was the “spontaneous” one and can’t handle helping at all.)

The problem with this is that it doesn’t take into consideration the current situation, strengths, or abilities of each person. Even if Sarah was the “responsible” one as a child, perhaps now she has a child of her own with disabilities who requires a lot of care.

Even if you can start the conversation of “What do you think taking care of Mom and Dad would look like for us?” that will set you up for future discussions. When the time comes for a serious plan to be put in place, you should arrange a family meeting with all those who would be involved (siblings, close friends, other relatives). 

When examining the situation and deciding solutions, be as specific as possible. Write down all the responsibilities and requirements of caregiving. When you’re deciding who should do what, be sure to take into account your own strengths, abilities, and limitations.

Another topic to review early on is any legal documents or decisions your parents have already made, such as a living will (also known as a healthcare direction) or power of attorney, and whether or not a will has been completed. It’s also important to know the location of these documents.

The key to everything is communication. One meeting or conversation is not enough. It’s an on-going process.

2) Develop your self-awareness

When it comes to caregiving, especially when it’s your own parents, there are a lot of emotions involved. Adjusting to the role reversal is difficult for most adult children, then added on are the everyday stresses of “normal life”, too. So, you’ll be experiencing a range of emotions, and then have to work together with other people, who you may be very close with or not so much. This situation is a stimulus for arguments.

Without being aware of and understanding your own emotions, you will simply react according to what your feelings tell you. This leads to acting out, yelling, blaming, and possibly even disengagement. None of these are productive for helping your loved one get the care they need.

Ask yourself questions about why you feel a certain way and what else might be causing it. Perhaps some old sibling rivalries are coming out again. Some clues that you might be acting out of feelings or fighting old battles include using phrases such as “You always do this!” or criticizing the way a sibling feels, such as “You donʼt care anything about Mom.” 
In these moments, in order to be able to switch to a more productive discussion, you have to be able to identify, pause, and adjust your mind and words. It’s a simple reminder, but try to pause and breath before you say the next thing. Then refocus back on the question or goal at hand.

If you find yourself really struggling, such as every discussion with your siblings turns into a heated argument, you might want to consider professional help. Even if your family doesn’t want to go to therapy together, going alone for yourself can be tremendously constructive. There is no shame in asking for help. When you are better able to manage yourself, your parents will win as well.

3) Discuss with your family how you will address problems

For someone who is conscientious and self-aware, it might come as a surprise to learn that not everyone is proactive about fixing or improving relationships. For example, many people just assume, “That’s just the way Sally is.” or “This is just how we interact.” It may never occur to them that if two people don’t get along they can take steps to improve their interactions.

As you get started on this caregiving journey, it could be helpful to ask your siblings, “If a problem arises among us, how should we resolve it?” You could also approach it as, “What would be the best way for me to discuss a problem with you?” showing that your primary concern is their feelings.

If you feel like you don’t make progress with that strategy, you could simply demonstrate it by saying, “If at any point you feel frustrated or hurt by something that I’ve done, please let me know so that I can correct it or not do it again.”

Another consideration is how each family member will alert the others about problems and how solutions will be made. For example, if you’re at an appointment with your Dad, and the doctor notices a decline and wants to adjust medication or treatment, how will you communicate it to your siblings? How will a decision be made? If you have established the process (for example, first you alert the others by sending an email to everyone providing the basic information, and then a family call or meeting is scheduled), there will be no surprises. No one will be left out. Furthermore, when people know what to look for, they’ll be less likely to miss important communications.

As humans, we’re bound to have disagreements, and in caregiving, there will almost definitely be problems. By addressing the situation early on, being aware of your emotions, and developing a process for resolving issues, you and your siblings will be better able to keep your focus on your parents and helping them to be as healthy and happy as possible.

If you have a senior living alone or far away, it’s likely that you feel concerned about their safety. Even with the diligence of several siblings taking care of mom and dad, it’s important to help reduce risks and increase safety in their living space. You can use our Senior At-Home Safety Checklist, which is a free comprehensive home safety checklist that will help you systematically go through each area of the home to check for common hazards and make sure the proper safety measures are in place. 
If you think your parents or relative would benefit from non-medical in-home care, you can learn more about our services here.

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1Russo, Francine. (2011). Caregiving with Your Siblings: As a Family, Carefully Consider—or Reconsider—the Caregiving Responsibilities. Family Caregiver Alliance. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/sibling-relationships-resolving-issues-while-caring-for-parents-2 03842.htm 

2 Family Caregiver Alliance. (2003). Holding a Family Meeting. https://www.caregiver.org/holding-family-meeting
3 National Institute on Aging. (May 09, 2017). How to Share Caregiving Responsibilities with Family Members.h ttps://www.nia.nih.gov/health/how-share-caregiving-responsibilities-family-members
 

4 Samuels, Claire. (April 25, 2020). How to Stop Family Disputes Over Elderly Parents: End-of-life care and inheritance conflicts emerge https://www.aplaceformom.com/caregiver-resources/articles/family-disputes
5 Bradley Bursack, Carol. (2016). Sibling Relationships: Resolving Issues While Caring for Parents: The Powerful Emotions Involved in Caregiving. https://www.agingcare.com/articles/sibling-relationships-resolving-issues-while-caring-for-parents-2 03842.htm
 

6 Russo, Francine. (2011). Caregiving with Your Siblings: Clues That You Are Acting out of Emotional Needs or Fighting Old Battles . https://www.agingcare.com/articles/sibling-relationships-resolving-issues-while-caring-for-parents-2 03842.htm 

7 ibid

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