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When Siblings Won’t Help with Caregiving

You’ve tried asking nicely, you’ve tried nagging and pleading, but your siblings just aren’t pitching in with your parents’ increasing needs. You’re frustrated and fed up, and when you don’t stop the emotional spiral you can feel the fury building. You need your siblings to share the load but they’re not picking it up (or carrying it far enough).

When you’re responsible for an ailing or aging parent’s care, the first people you expect to help are your siblings—and it can hurt, deeply, if they don’t.

This predicament isn’t unusual, according to Francine Russo, author of the book, They’re Your Parents Too!: How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy. “It’s very rare for siblings to share eldercare equally,” Russo writes in her blog, Dispatches from the Front. “In the families that get along best, sisters and brothers realize that each does what he or she can, given their lives and responsibilities.”

Overcome Excuses

When your siblings come up with excuses, look for ways to work around them. Do your siblings say they’d like to help but live too far away? See if there are ways to involve them—especially ones that make the most of their strengths. If your brother is good with numbers, perhaps he can assume responsibility for your parent’s finances, such as dealing with health insurance providers and paying bills online.

Family Dynamics and Old Habits

Sometimes family dynamics can get in the way of everyone’s best intentions. Is your sister second-guessing the money spent on your parent’s care? Rather than assuming that she’s worried about the size of her inheritance, try to find out the reasons behind her concern. If she questions whether the care is necessary, ask your parent’s doctor or home health care manager to speak with her frankly about your parent’s medical condition and the care required to manage it. If the cost of the care itself does turn out to be problematic, ask your sister to research alternatives and their costs.

It’s important to realize that, even as adults, your siblings may be viewing you in your childhood role, or may be reverting to their position in the family. If you were the big sister or the responsible brother, your siblings might still expect you to take the lead and know what’s best. On the flipside, if your siblings were given too much responsibility as children, they may be thinking, “I’ve done my share already, now it’s their turn.”

Coping with Refusal

If there’s no changing your siblings’ behavior, it’s time to do what caregivers without siblings do: find support and help elsewhere. If you have responsible cousins, a stable spouse, or even a best friend, they can often provide emotional or practical support. You don’t have to go it alone: support groups, blogs, Internet forums, and friends who have been caregivers themselves can provide a place to vent or to find help and support.

Remind yourself that there is no perfect situation: Families with several “involved” siblings often have problems with disagreements and power struggles. Some of these caregivers inevitably wish they could just be left alone to make the decisions.

Remember there isn’t a right or wrong way of caregiving—your style, like your relationship with your parent, is bound to be different from your siblings’ styles. One thing is for certain, though: Everyone will appreciate your effort to keep them in the loop when it comes to decisions about your parent’s care. If you can’t all get together, schedule a phone conference or Skype session. And most importantly, recognize that despite your differences in opinion, everyone has your parent’s best interest at heart.

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