When was the last time you heard or said the words, “Mom liked you best?” Hopefully, not since you were very young — or ever.
But with our population living so much longer and siblings finding themselves in the role of caring for aging parents, these “fighting” words seem to be spoken more frequently.
Warm childhood memories often emerge during the course of family caregiving, but so do old grievances and pain. Sharing the care of elderly parents can be just as difficult as sharing was when we were children growing up in the same house.
Family dynamics leave a legacy that often becomes the source of sibling friction. Past wounds are reopened and childhood rivalries emerge. Invariably, the demands of caregiving bring out old patterns and unresolved tensions. It is not unusual for adult children to find themselves replaying their historical family roles, recreating old dynamics of competition and resentment as they vie for mom’s attention and affection.
According to a recent survey of family caregivers, in 43% of U.S. families, one sibling has the responsibility for providing most or all of the care for Mom or Dad. In only 2% of U.S. families did the siblings split the caregiving responsibility equally.*
Here are a few tips for sibling caregivers that I think you will find helpful.
Express feelings honestly and directly
As research has shown, generally one sibling takes on the primary role of caring for a loved one. Regardless of the reasons, this can lead to the often overburdened caregiver feeling frustrated and resentful, while the other siblings feel uninformed and left out.
Express your feelings honestly and directly. Let your siblings know their help is both wanted and needed. Keep family members informed regarding a parent’s condition.
Be realistic about expectations
Allow siblings to help in ways they are able and divide tasks according to individual abilities and current life pressures. Assistance with errands, finances or legal work may be the best option for some family members.
Be willing to compromise
Siblings need to accept each other for who they are. There will be differences of opinions and perceptions. Discussion is the path to compromise. If you fail to reach an accord, seek outside help with a facilitator, a family counselor or a trusted third party.
Resist old family roles
One of the hardest things in life is when our parents age and die. We all handle it differently. Some express feelings of sorrow, anger, fear or resentment. Some blame others or circumstances. Some folks shut down, at least for a time. And, there are those folks who either talk about their feelings, or deny their emotions for years. It’s easy to slip into our old roles, but there is a good chance that they don’t work anymore. So take a fresh look at your siblings and you may be surprised.
Understand your own emotions
Dealing with siblings over parent care can be difficult, complex and emotional. Be sure that you understand your own emotions and make every effort to understand what your siblings are feeling. Always try to leave “guilt” on the table. It is important not to feel guilty about what you can’t do and equally important not to instill guilt in others.
The importance of self-care
Always be specific about the help you need and express appreciation to your family for any assistance they are able to provide. If they can’t or won’t help, seek other assistance to provide a respite for yourself. Self-care is critical, as is asking for help. For resources, call a local senior center, city department of social services or a local Area Agency on Aging.
*Figures are from a study conducted for the Home Instead Senior Care® network.