Sibling rivalries are often harmless, but when it comes time to care for an aging parent, these petty squabbles and long-ago disagreements can bubble up and boil over. It can either be a blessing or a curse to have a tight-knit team of family behind you as you care for an elderly parent and the outcomes depends on how you manage the often-difficult circumstances around you. Here three pieces of advice on how you and your siblings can navigate the rough road caregiving while maintaining good relationships and helping your parent feel safe, comfortable and loved.
1. ABC: Always Be Communicating
Like in any relationship, communication is probably the most important element for you and your siblings as you care for your elderly parent. It’s crucial that you talk regularly throughout the process, starting with developing a plan for care. When caring for your parent, always talk to your siblings about any major changes in care, such as a change in health of your parent, a different medication they are on or a big decision regarding something like your parent’s finances. It’s crucial that you express your emotions to you siblings as well. If you feel burnt out, angry, sad or worried, find a healthy way to discuss this with your siblings without invoking guilt, anger or resentment.
One way to keep the lines of communication open and functioning well between you and your siblings is to include other people in the discussions. Certainly include your parent in discussions involving their care. It’s also a good idea to consult other professionals, such as trained caregivers, medical professionals or even caregiver therapists who are trained in facilitating communication and diffusing arguments between siblings in a caregiving situation. Ultimately, it’s important to be honest, empathetic, open-minded and diligent in communicating with siblings.
2. Play To Each Other’s Strengths While Seeking Balance
It’s inevitable that throughout the caregiving process, you and your siblings will take on different roles. How you each care for your elderly parent often depends on several factors, including proximity, financial resources, your relationship with the parent and your own family situation. It’s best to discuss roles early in the caregiving process to establish expectations. Try to focus on dividing roles based on the strengths of you and your siblings. For example, if one sibling is more handy than another, perhaps they will be the one to ensure your parent’s house is accessible and safe for aging in place.
While dividing caregiving roles among siblings based on strengths, resources, accessibility and ability is a good idea, it can also lead to an uneven division of time or resources, which can lead to a feeling that one sibling is doing more than others. Try to find a way to balance caregiving duties equally among siblings. This may come in the form of a building a schedule and rotating tasks or hiring a third party, such as CANES or another home care service, to help with tasks that have the potential to overwhelm one sibling. While the time and resources you give your elderly parent will never be quite equal, try to achieve as much balance as possible and recognize each other’s contributions to retain a healthy perspective.
3. Recognize And Reciprocate Sacrifice
Caring for an elderly parent involves sacrifice. It might come in the form of delaying a vacation, taking less responsibility at your office, holding off on purchasing something you had your eye on or any number of financial, personal or professional wants or needs. This isn’t a possibility, it’s a certainty. When caring for an aging parent with siblings, it’s important to recognize when a sibling sacrifices something in the name of being a caregiving. A letter, a small gift or even a helping hand that recognizes their good deed will go a long way to maintaining a healthy relationship and avoiding anger, resentment, sadness or other emotions that could cause a rift.
The other side of the sacrifice scenario is to reciprocate these deeds of going without. When it comes time to sacrifice something to care for your elderly parent, following your siblings’ lead is often a way to strengthen your bond through shared experiences. It’s important not to ‘keep score’ with sacrifices; remember, things will never be completely equal. It’s important to talk with your siblings about both your sacrifices and find ways to treat yourselves together in order to avoid burnout and its negative emotional and physical consequences.