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November “Senior Sense”: When Siblings Share The Caregiving For An Aging Parent, Will It Be Welfare Or Warfare?

Jody Gastfriend
Oct. 15, 2018

“It shouldn’t have to be this hard,” said Kelly, a 55-year-old woman caring for her 89-year-old father with Parkinson’s disease. “After all, my sister and I both love my father. Why can’t we agree on things?” Kelly wanted to respect her father’s wishes to remain in his home, where he felt comfortable. But as his health declined, Kelly’s father was no longer safe living alone. So Kelly hired a paid caregiver to help with meals, errands, light housekeeping and generally to make sure her dad was okay. But when Kelly shared the plan with her sister Fran, things didn’t go well. Instead of expressing appreciation, Fran was furious. She’d been pleading with their father to move to assisted living and felt adamant that Kelly’s plan would, in the long run, make things worse.

Caring for aging parents is a journey the majority of us will take in our lives. Many will encounter common challenges: parents who need but refuse help, a fragmented health care system, the staggering cost of care and the daunting task of somehow finding time to juggle it all. But of all the difficulties family caregivers face, one of the biggest sources of stress is trying to get on the same page with our siblings. A survey commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association revealed that 61% of siblings felt they didn’t get the support they needed from their brothers and sisters and it strained their relationship. And when it comes to caregiving, there’s plenty to fight about. These are just a few of the issues that can lead to all-out battles:

Round 1: Perception Of Need

A common area of conflict between siblings is the different perceptions of a parent’s needs and how best to approach care. Guilt can also be a driver in decision making, especially for the sibling who isn’t around as much and feels the need to step in. Getting professional guidance can help to minimize conflicts and provide families with realistic solutions.

Round 2: Sharing The Caregiving

Unfortunately, the burden of caregiving is seldom divided up equally among siblings. When you add siblings who don’t pitch in or show appreciation, it’s a fertile ground for resentment. Studies show that caregivers who feel unappreciated tend to have less collaborative and more problematic relationships with their siblings. But stewing in your juices usually just makes things worse. Learn to ask for specific help and divide up tasks according to a sibling’s skill set and availability. If all else fails, lean on other family members or hire paid caregivers to pitch in.

Round 3: Money

When siblings fight over money, they can lose sight of what is in the best interest of their parents. A recent AARP report estimates that family caregivers spend roughly $7,000 annually to help fund expenses related to care for their parents and loved ones. Financial planners, elder law attorneys and professional mediators can provide objective advice and information about costs associated with long term care and how best to plan ahead.

The Final Round: End Of Life Care

Death is one of those topics people assiduously avoid, often to their own detriment. Planning ahead can minimize the risk of intractable conflicts that may linger for years—even generations—after the death of a parent. Does the parent have an advanced directive, such as a health care proxy or living will? Do the adult children understand what life-saving measures a parent wants or doesn’t want to be kept alive? These can be incredibly stressful discussions. Fortunately, caregivers today have a range of resources available — for instance, websites like The Conversation Project help guide family caregivers through the decision-making process. Understanding an elder’s wishes can go a long way in helping siblings come together, rather than fall apart, when making decisions about end of life care.

The most enduring relationships in life are often with our brothers and sisters. While there may be quarrels and conflicts, there are also healthy and healing ways to work through disagreements and help our parents age with dignity, compassion and love.

This article originally appeared on Forbes.com.

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