How to Manage Caregiving With Your Siblings

How to Manage Caregiving an Aging Parent With Your Siblings

Being a caregiver for your parents is already challenging and complex. Adding siblings to the mix can make things feel even more difficult.

While siblings may offer support and camaraderie during a vulnerable time, certain personality differences can exacerbate stress. This is especially true if tension already exists within your family.

Let’s get into what you need to know.

What Makes Caregiving With Siblings So Difficult?

On average, we’re living longer than we ever have. But even though life expectancies have risen, people generally spend more time in poorer health. In fact, researchers estimate that the number of older people with at least four different medical conditions will likely double by 2035.

That means that adult children are often looking after their parents.┬áMany families have ‘sandwich generation’ adult children who are raising their own children while caring for their mom and dad. The toll of this kind of balance can undoubtedly affect family dynamics- and it can strain your own well-being.

No matter the circumstances, watching your parent age and die is emotionally difficult. It’s one of the hardest things you’ll experience in life, and you and you and each of your siblings will cope with this grief differently.

Here are some of the challenges you and your adult siblings might face during caregiving:

Old Childhood Wounds

Was your brother your parent’s favorite child? Did you often feel like your father disregarded your needs? Were you jealous of the close relationship your sister had with your mother?

These wounds may have happened decades ago, but caregiving can bring them right back to the surface. Many siblings find that they experience the same types of family disputes they had during childhood.

Financial Disagreements

Money can bring out the worst in anyone, and this often becomes highly apparent when helping aging parents. Caregiving often requires financial care, and even the clearest parameters can still pose obstacles.

In most cases, however, there aren’t any parameters, and siblings are left to decide what needs to be done. With that, family caregivers often have enormous responsibilities and divvying up payment isn’t always straightforward.

Time Commitments

Maybe one sibling wants to visit your ailing parent every evening. Perhaps long-distance siblings can’t logistically or easily see your parents in person.

It’s common for siblings to disagree on how much time needs to be devoted to the parent’s care. Resentment can build when siblings assume they need to be entirely on the same page about how much time they spend caregiving or visiting.

Poor Communication

Communication issues often predate a sick parent. If you and your siblings are fighting now, there’s a good chance there have been difficulties in the past.

Communication tends to start with smaller issues. Who, for example, will manage the food shopping? Who makes the phone calls after the doctor’s appointments?

It can then snowball into difficulties communicating about the bigger issues. When should a nursing home or assisted living facility be considered? At what point, do you start seriously discussing funeral arrangements?

Social and Cultural Expectations

External factors can affect how siblings disagree with one another. For example, research shows that Asian-American caregivers are less likely to use professional support services than white caregivers. However, ethnic minority caregivers were more likely to receive family support in caregiving than white caregivers. Hispanics are the most likely to receive caregiving support from their adult children.

In addition, 66% of caregivers are women, and female caregivers spend about 50% more time caregiving than male caregivers.

These expectations- whether you’re conscious of them or not- can certainly affect how you and your siblings approach caregiving needs.

How Can Siblings Manage Caregiving Amicably?

Regardless of the relationship you have with your siblings, most families want to maintain some semblance of peace and calm during the caregiving experience. Here are some ways to navigate daily life with your siblings.

Define Caregiving Responsibilities

As you start considering how to look after an aging parent, it’s a good idea for you and your siblings to come together to discuss what care actually entails. In fact, this is often a good idea even before a parent gets sick.

Consider each person’s strengths when delegating responsibilities and roles. Is someone more skilled in hands-on care? Is another sibling more financially-savvy? Who is emotionally closest to the parent? Does anyone feel more comfortable navigating doctors or other healthcare professionals?

Some siblings refuse to acknowledge that their elderly parent needs support. This is a common reaction, and it’s important to be sensitive to their needs and feelings right now.

Remember you don’t need to hash out everything during the first discussion. Roles can and may evolve over time.

Reflect On Your Family Role

Whether you’re conscious of your part or not, we all take on family roles within our families. And when we get together with our family, we often fall into these old roles.

For example, maybe your older brother was known as the mature, intelligent one. Perhaps your younger sister was the rebel who always got into trouble. And maybe you were the calm one who provided everyone with emotional support.

It’s easy to naturally step into these roles when considering family caregiving. But be mindful of your tendency to default to any one way of behaving. You may realize now that your role no longer suits you or your life.

Know Your Own Limits

As you consider what caregiving looks like for you, you need to consider your own quality of life and capabilities.

For example, are you currently raising your own children or working in a busy, high-stress job? Do you live far away from your parents? Do you have your own health problems you’re currently facing?

Setting boundaries can be hard, especially if you have pushy siblings or struggle with people-pleasing. But remember that you have to be realistic with what you can provide. Otherwise, you risk burning out, resenting your parent or siblings, or facing issues in your other relationships (such as with your spouse, children, or other family members).

Keep an Open Line of Communication

Try to make sure that all information gets shared equally and fairly. It’s important to have an agreed-upon method for communicating with one another (like a group text or scheduled video chat). If possible, consider holding a regular family meeting where you all discuss the situation and check in with one another.

Remember that your parent may share different ideas or information with each of you. This is fairly typical, and it often has more to do with your parent’s wishes or perception of the relationship than anything else. But try to avoid keeping secrets and remember that

Try to Accept Your Siblings For Who They Are

The heart of sibling conflict often comes down to a lack of acceptance of differences. Even though you may be biologically related, that doesn’t mean your siblings and you have the same priorities or needs. Nobody’s thought process is “better” than someone else’s.

Remember your siblings don’t necessarily owe you anything. While that reality may be painful (or seem frustrating), you will find that you feel much better when you can accept people for who they are- rather than holding onto unrealistic expectations.

Be Mindful of Guilt-Tripping

If you’re a primary caregiver, your work can certainly mimic a full-time job. You might feel resentful that your family members haven’t stepped up to support you more.

With that, guilt rarely motivates people to change. Instead, it makes them feel defensive, guarded, and angry. Those reactions are also likely to trigger intense emotions in you.

Aim to Respect Your Parent’s Assignment of Legal Powers

If you are the designated power of attorney, make sure you keep track of how you spend money or make decisions. Keeping these records is required by law, and your other siblings have a right to know what’s going on.

If one of your siblings has the legal power, remember your parent ultimately made that decision. You might not like it or agree with it, but it can’t be changed. Instead, try to collaborate with your sibling to ensure your parent’s wishes are met.

Seek Professional Help

This is an emotional time for your family, and even rock-solid sibling relationships can suffer. It can be so hard to assert your needs without offending someone, and it’s easy to fall into engaging in old conflicts that no longer benefit anyone.

Family therapists, geriatric care managers, and hospice social workers can help siblings communicate effectively and establish what’s needed for their aging parent.

If you are struggling with caregiving, getting your own therapy can also be extremely valuable. It’s important to process your needs and feelings right now. Reexamining your relationship with your own parents and siblings often entails a sense of grief.

Therapy can be a grounding, safe environment as you navigate what’s going on. Contact me today to schedule a consultation.



4601 Spicewood Springs Road Building 3, Suite 200
Austin, TX 78759

kara@hartzellcounseling.com
(512) 988-3363

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