How to Support Your Caregiver Sibling

When a parent needs care, most of the day-to-day responsibilities fall on the child who lives closest. After all, it’s a lot easier for a brother who lives five miles away to check in on Mom or Dad than it is for a sister who lives across the country or even in another county.

If you provide less hands-on care than your sibling, you can still help them in their role as caregiver. In fact, it’s important to give as much support as you can to the sibling who’s managing your parents’ care. So while your brother or sister is taking care of your parents, here are ways you can support your caregiving sibling:

Check in often.

Your sister may be organized and have everything under control, but caregiving can be exhausting, and the responsibilities can change rapidly and dramatically. When you call, ask how she’s holding up or if there’s anything she needs. Give specific offers to help—listen to what your sibling talks about and ask if you can provide items or services that meet those needs. In addition, pay attention to how she speaks as well as what she says. Does she sound frustrated, exhausted, or overwhelmed? Is she worried about losing her job or about finances because she’s taken so much time off?

Respect each others’ perspectives.

Because your brother sees your parents frequently, he might see an alarming sign of decline that you don’t notice in a 10-minute phone call. Conversely, he may not notice small or gradual changes that seem glaringly obvious to you when you visit.

Respect your sibling’s version of events.

If you come in for occasional visits, you may see your parents on their best behavior—you’ve made a special trip, just to see them! They may complain less around you, for example, or insist that they’re up for activities that usually exhaust them.

Combine stories.

Rather than bicker about who’s right and who’s wrong, combine what you and your siblings see and hear to get a more complete picture of your parents’ health. Remember that parents may not tell all of their children everything. It’s possible that your mom forgets who she’s told, or perhaps she doesn’t feel comfortable discussing some things with her sons.

Be tactful when you offer advice.

If your brother says one of your suggestions won’t work, resist the urge to argue. Instead, listen to his reasons and, if you still think your idea is worth pursuing, explore ways to address his concerns before bringing it up again.

Ask about hidden expenses.

When you add up the money spent on your parents’ care, take into account costs your sibling incurs but might not mention—such as gas and parking or train fare to and from medical appointments, meal costs during hospitalizations, or reduced income from working shorter hours.

Give your sibling a break.

Time your visit to coincide with your sibling’s vacation. Spend a day or two learning your parents’ routine or any special care needs. Look into respite care, too. Partners in Care offers respite services throughout New York City and certain suburbs.

Be the bad guy.

Your sibling deals with your parents on daily basis, so it’s important to do what you can to make sure they have a good relationship. For example, when it’s time for your dad to stop driving, offer to fight that battle. Your dad might get mad at you, but by taking the brunt of his anger you can protect your sister, who still needs to make sure your dad takes his medication and follows his diet.

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