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  • Writer's pictureK-State Research and Extension

When siblings become caregivers

Determining how to support an aging parent is a challenge most families face. (Wix file photo)

Submitted by Kathy Goul, family & consumer science agent

Marais des Cygnes District Extension Service

As we move into adulthood, the time we spend with siblings typically decreases.  Starting a career, raising a family and moving away from the area we grew up in all play a role in the amount of time we have available to stay connected.  Later in life, one of the things that tends to bring siblings back together is the need to care for aging parents.

Caring for an aging parent is a time for siblings to mutually support one another.  Unfortunately, the pressure of caregiving can lead to frustration and conflict at times as we struggle with the reality of our loved one’s declining health.  Disagreements about finances, how much effort each sibling is contributing or where a parent might live can be common. 

While each sibling may feel his/her ideas are best, not everyone can be right.  So how can families come together and deliver the best quality care possible for the parent?Re-evaluate existing relationships.  Don’t get stuck in childhood roles such as “the youngest needs protection” or “the oldest has the most responsibility.”  This can lead to resentment, tension and unfair sharing of family responsibilities.

Be respectful.  As siblings, we are typically at a different place in our lives and will have different amounts of time and resources to devote to the care of our aging parents.  Let siblings know their help is needed and wanted – allowing them to help in ways they are able. 

Divide tasks according to individual abilities, current life pressures and personal freedoms.

Make a plan.  Provide siblings with a list of tasks included in caregiving and ask how they want to help.  Indirect care, such as financial and legal assistance, may be the best option for some family members – especially those who live out of town. 

Communicate often.  Work as a group and decide on the best method to keep everyone informed.  Keep siblings informed regarding the parent’s condition and issues as they arise.  Express appreciation to family members for any help provided.  If communication is contentious, arrange a family meeting that includes an outside facilitator such as a friend, religious leader, social worker or counselor.

Agree to disagree.  Accept siblings for who they are and expect differences in opinions.  Respect other’s perceptions and find opportunities to compromise.  Understand that not all siblings may be involved in the care of aging parents.  If siblings are unable to help with care, seek other assistance to provide a respite for the caregiver. 

As a parent, we can reduce the likelihood of sibling rivalry as we age by sharing our wishes regarding healthcare, finances and living arrangements with our children.  Part of this process is appointing the individual(s) we trust to carry out our wishes.  This may or may not be one of our kids. 

Through specifying our wants and needs, we give our children the framework needed to lessen the opportunities for disagreements.  While this will not eliminate all disagreements, it is a great place to start!

Source:  The Dynamics of Sibling Relationships While Caring for an Aging Parent, Louisiana State University Research & Extension.

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