Witnessing a parent’s health decline is difficult as adult children come to terms with the idea that the relationship with their mother or father is changing. If you are currently caring for an aging parent, you may be experiencing this sense of anticipatory loss. Your siblings can be a source of support since they are experiencing these same emotions alongside you. However, the emotional impact of caregiving can also cause friction among your brothers and sisters. If you feel you are often in conflict with your siblings while caregiving for your aging parents, know that you are not alone.
The Caregiving Role
Caregiving for an aging parent is a multifaceted job that involves the financial, legal, physical and emotional well-being of your mother or father. You may encounter many different opinions between your siblings on what decisions need to be made, which can lead to confusion about what people will agree upon. In addition, if your siblings have questions about the estate or their inheritance, this can have place pressure on the caregiver who is managing the financial and legal affairs of the parent.
The sibling relationship is an important factor in the care of aging parents. For one, siblings need to make key decisions and communicate their feelings and opinions in terms of their
parent’s care. Combined with the emotional process of accepting their parent’s declining health, you may observe that your brothers or sisters may be attempting to resolve long-buried feelings with the family or may be unintentionally inciting sibling rivalries by falling into old family patterns.
Family Roles and Patterns
A major complication of the sibling caregiving relationship is that childhood roles within the family re-emerge. Family members can view the adult siblings with the same labels that they acquired—perhaps unfairly—as children. Birth order and gender may also influence these sibling dynamics. For example, if you were the highly-responsible child in the family and are now handling your parent’s care, your siblings may feel that you have everything covered with your aging parent, and not know how to help. Just as you would want to be acknowledged for the person you are today, rather than how you were characterized in the past, it is necessary to acknowledge that these labels may have a damaging effect on the sibling relationship. A question to ask yourself in your communications with family members is whether your feelings or opinions are based on the present situation or are remnants of the past relationship. Be mindful that you are offering space for your siblings to contribute in the way they can.
Relationship with the Parent in Care
Your siblings have a different relationship with your parent than you do therfore they may have different needs in caring for your parent. If your sibling has resentments towards your parent that are coming up at this emotional time, resist judging them for their feelings as we all have our own individual process of letting go. It may be helpful to reframe how the siblings views the role at hand. Express your own need for assistance and ask for their support in your role as primary caregiver, if they cannot offer this to your parent.
In another common scenario, your parent may have helped resolve any disagreements among your siblings. Now with your parent unable to intervene, your siblings might need to devise new communication and conflict management strategies.
Effective communication is important to ensure trust and transparency between your brothers and sisters. Your siblings can provide helpful input in the decisions you face as the primary caregiver. Regular and consistent communication with your family members (especially those that live out of town) can alleviate tension between siblings. Some primary caregivers may send regular email updates to siblings, or make use the apps such as Tyze now available for managing the care of a loved one. Communication can also motivate people to contribute and ensures that each family member is on the same page with the care of your parent.
A family meeting can help establish new patterns and build trust with your siblings for your abilities to care for your parent. If needed, a counselor or psychologist can help facilitate your family meeting to ensure turn-taking in talking and guide the process towards a productive outcome.
Be aware that each sibling is processing the emotional situation of their parent relationship at their own speed and to the best of their abilities. You can help to create a better connection with your family by providing positive feedback when siblings help, listening intently to what your siblings say, and by clarifying issues as soon as they arise. This does not mean that you have to compromise your own feelings in the relationship; rather, you have a duty to express yourself in an honest and non-accusatory way that. If in the end, your siblings are still not responding to your efforts, it may be time to step back and recognize their limitations in caregiving. At times, you may have to take on the role without any assistance of family members. If this is your situation, reach out for the support of the caregiving community to ensure your own needs are being met.
Come by and borrow these library resources:
- Caring for your Parents: The Complete Family Guide (Book) by Hugh Delehanty and Elinor Ginzler
- Family Meeting: A Media-Based Approach to Planning Care for Family Elders (DVD) by Sheri Hartman and David Kleber
- Online: Handling the Sibling Relationship (Podcast), http://archcare.ecarediary.com/CommentRadioShow.aspx?id=215
By Lindsay Kwan
*Adapted from the July/August 2016 Family Caregivers’ Grapevine