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Family Caregiving: Siblings at Odds

For many of us with elderly parents, this holiday season was eye opening. Perhaps, during your visit you noticed signs that your parent(s) need assistance or can no longer live independently at home. It's now obvious that you and your siblings need to take action and begin planning for your parents short and long term care needs. Unfortunately, working together may be unfamiliar territory.

Let's face it...most siblings have had their fair share of disagreements over the years. Maybe the relationships are strained or even fractured. When important, difficult decisions need to be made about Mom and Dad's care, siblings may find themselves at odds. Unfortunately, old resentments and hurts may come to the surface and interfere with decision making. You might be surprised when needs arise in yourself or siblings for love, approval or recognition. These feelings could fuel competition and arguments over caregiving: who does or doesn't do it; how much care is needed; financing, who's in charge...etc.

How will you put aside your differences and work together?

1. Have compassion for yourself and your siblings. This is a difficult and stressful time for all involved. When arguments flare up or siblings act out, take a moment to imagine the underlying feelings of need, fear, or exhaustion that could be triggering the negative behavior. If discussions get heated, table the conversation and take a needed break. Your family members will appreciate the understanding and may return the favor.

2.Call a family meeting before a crisis arises. The worst time to make critical, long term decisions for a loved one is during stressful or pressure filled circumstances, like a sudden critical illness. Tensions will be at peak level and the decisions may be emotion based rather than thoughtful. Teamwork can collapse in these situations and some family members may not be available to contribute to the decision making process. Make sure that all siblings are able to provide input by meeting often for planning and updates. Keep in mind that parents often provide different and sometimes conflicting information to their children. This is another good reason to keep communication lines open to pool and sort out information about parents' health status. Consider using on-line teleconferencing tools to link in out of town family members.

3.Develop a care plan and define each sibling's role. Often, families do not really think through who should be the primary caregiver. Most often, the sibling who lives closest to the parent or has fewer work or family obligations becomes the primary caregiver by default. However, is this necessarily the best choice? Does he or she have the emotional and physical stamina to shoulder this burden? With additional support, would another sibling be a better fit for this key role? An honest discussion about each siblings strengths, limitations, desires should take place early in the planning process. Define the parent's needs and ask what each person can contribute in time or money. Keep the plan and each family member's roles fluid to allow for changing circumstances. Consider retaining the services of a quality In-Home Care provider to fill in caregiving gaps and to provide essential respite time for primary caregivers.

4. Consider hiring a mediator. When discussions turn to financing care for a parent, tension can escalate quickly. Longtime resentments or disparities in income can result in arguments and communication break down. Arguments over the financial aspect of care must be resolved early in the process. The state of finances is obviously a determining factor in so many care decisions. Professional assistance from a trained therapist, social worker, clergyman or elder care attorney may be invaluable in resolving differences and making key decisions. An experienced third party can separate emotion from fact, take an objective look at the situation, provide alternatives and assist family members in making important decisions.

5.Be mindful of your tone and language when communicating with siblings. It's not always easy to recognize how we sound to others. You might believe that you are requesting assistance in a polite way but if you are angry at the time, siblings will pick up on it and react negatively. Don't always assume criticism from siblings mean spirited. Try to listen to their concerns about your parents with an open mind and consider whether the feedback is useful. Be liberal with "thank you" when someone is helpful...recognition goes a long way in fostering a spirit of cooperation. Above all, avoid making siblings feel guilty. It's NEVER productive. Guilt tactics only make people feel uncomfortable, defensive and alienated. Most people will attack back when made to feel guilty or withdraw completely. Instead, ask a sibling to handle only what is realistic for him or her and not the impossible.

Additional Communication Tips:

  • Ask for help from siblings in a direct, specific way. Avoid making hints or complaints to get needs addressed. Don't expect family members to read your mind or anticipate your needs.

  • Do not generalize discussions with statements like "You always do this."

  • Avoid criticizing sibling's feelings and applying unfair labels.

  • Diffuse arguments by focusing on getting through the immediate task at hand. Leave discussions concerning grievances, hurt feelings and criticisms for another time.

Planning, communication and consideration among siblings can make the difference between strengthening family ties or straining them when caring for aging parents. Simply remembering that your siblings are coming from a place of love for a parent can give you some perspective when relationships get "dicey".

Want to learn more about how your loved one might benefit from one-on-one care by a seasoned, professional caregiver? Consult Atlanta's most trusted source for Home Care, Easy Living Services, Inc. We have supported families in their efforts to keep loved ones fulfilled at home since 1994.

Call us today to discuss your specific needs 770-442-8664. We're ready to help.

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