Is taking care of your aging parents stressful?
Silly question, Right?
Of course, it is. And doing it alone is hard. But, don’t you think working with your siblings can be even harder?
Sibling caregivers have a laborious job. They all have to work together while providing care for their parents who may be ill or declining in health.
I can’t think of very many things that are more emotionally exhausting than working with my brothers to care for my parents. Don’t get me wrong – we love each other and get along like peas in a pod. But, my siblings and I each have different memories, needs, emotions, and desires when it comes to helping my parents. Their ideas are different than mine.
And we each think we are right. The reality is, we may ALL be right.
Yes, caregiving is stressful, but when we provide care with our siblings, things can get very complicated.
Complicated like a plate of spaghetti where everything intertwines with another. For example, the caregiving needs of parents can vary and may include:
- Daily personal care
- Healthcare coordination
- Bill paying
- Shopping or meal preparation
- Lawn care or house maintenance
And typically the responsibility for our parents may start small, but their needs can snowball.
Sometimes, seemingly overnight, care needs can become a full-time job.
So what can you do?
First, remember that there is no such thing as a perfect family.
And although there isn’t a perfect way to care for parents either, there are some strategies that can make it easier and help to keep everyone happy with one another.
1. How To Care for Aging Parents as Siblings – Communication is Key
You probably know that working with your siblings can confound the process and increase steps.
To reduce stress, keep communicating.
The initial strategy is to bring everyone together to focus on the parent’s current need(s), with the intent to prioritize needs and then work through the list of priorities. When possible, have a family meeting. It works best with your parents and siblings together.
If possible, encourage parents to voice their wishes before any health changes occur. Encourage your parents to share their vision of a best-case scenario, and then proceed to more severe needs. Strive to openly discuss their desires and the best options to meet them.
Unfortunately, most people do not have discussions about these topics until caregiving needs are required.
Thus, when caring issues come up suddenly, it can be desperate for the sibling caregivers. Each sibling may not only cope differently but also may focus on another period emotionally (including feelings from childhood to anticipation of the loss of the parent).
If this is your situation, the key is to have all of the family together (this works best in person, but using video or phone are okay if necessary) so everyone hears the same things.
How to Relieve the ‘Facilitator’ Burden
If the parent is currently in a healthcare facility, a nurse, social worker or other health care provider can facilitate the family meeting. If the parent is not in an institution, home-based services are available. Healthcare providers, like myself, can be a non-biased voice.
It is helpful to use a healthcare provider as the meeting facilitator because the provider can:
- Be the expert on healthcare needs
- Give everyone the opportunity to ask questions
- Promote looking at the situation through the parent’s needs (versus a sibling’s needs or emotions)
- Focus on an action plan that is results-oriented versus being emotionally-driven
2. How To Care for Aging Parents as Siblings: Work From Strengths
When it comes to taking care of your parents, it is a lot like how people feel about their driving. Everyone thinks they know best!
Sometimes a primary caregiver for a parent is evident; there is a healthcare worker in the family, one person lives nearby, or one person is already providing some care.
Sometimes a primary caregiver is chosen because they are the least bad at it, or is the only one living close to the parent.
In either case, the caregiver should be honest, open and accurate on what types of tasks or help they will require for the long term.
Whatever the case, each sibling should be asked to bring their strengths to the table. What are they good at and what are they willing to contribute?
A perfect scenario would be where one person feels like they can take on the hands-on care, and everyone else can offer support in the following ways:
1. Emotional support (frequently calling to check on and coordinating other caregiving needs)
2. Financial assistance (assisting with payment for uncovered expenses for the parent or helping to manage the parent’s finances)
3. Helping the other parent (with things like lawn care, bill paying, transportation, shopping, etc.others)
4. Providing respite care or help
5. Assisting with research and phone calls
Of course, it will never just roll out picture perfect, but this is a roadmap to use while navigating through the particular care requirements. Start filling the needs from each other’s strengths and then work to fill in the gaps in other ways.
3. How To Care for Aging Parents as Siblings: Set Up Caregiving Milestones and Expectations
Another strategy for sibling caregivers is to establish caregiving milestone (benchmarks) and expectations.
- If the parent can do this (task) independently, we provide this (care).
- If parent’s independence or health declines and is unable to do this (task), we change to this (care).
Conversations like these, with everyone present, sets the expectations for the parents and the siblings.
It is also a way to give the primary caregiver ‘permission’ to let go of caregiving responsibilities as the care becomes more involved and challenging.
4. How To Care for Aging Parents as Siblings: You Are a T.E.A.M.
During emotional stress, manners tend to fly out of the window. Keeping your eye on the prize whether it is keeping your parent in the home or reaching a particular milestone is important.
T: Try to get along with your family. It is easy to let emotions and past problems get the best of us. Starting each day with the prize in mind can help tamper emotional hurts and outbursts. Another strategy is to remember that everyone’s opinion has value and you are never 100% right. You may not always agree with everything your siblings say or desire, but you may find you can ‘live with it’ for the sake of your parent’s care.
E: Everyone takes a task. Consider working from strengths and rotating on tasks that no one enjoys. You may even want to consider using volunteers or hiring others for non-favorite tasks. Do not assume the in-home caregiver can handle it all-no matter how good things ‘appear.’ It takes everyone working together to make it over the long-term.
A: Assess the parent’s needs regularly. Re-evaluate needs either bi-weekly, monthly or quarterly. Do not assume that one plan will last forever. Typically, the longer the care is necessary, the more intensive the care needs become.
M: Motivate and encourage each other. Everyone in the family will feel the stress. Be kind to each other.
5. How to Care for Aging Parents as Siblings: Accept Differences
Everyone has emotional baggage of some kind when it comes to working together as a family.
Do not to use the caregiving time as a way to get back at each other or solve those problems.
In closing, while sibling caregivers can grow together and heal past differences during a caregiving experience, it may not always happen. Sometimes, just accepting that the caregiving process is about the needs of your parents will facilitate a better relationship with your family.
The bottom line – providing care for your aging or ill parent is hard. Applying these strategies can help when you are caring for your parents with your siblings. Always, always start with communication. It will not make it a perfect situation but can help you stay focused on the care of your parents. And that should make everyone happier.
Which strategy do you think is the most helpful? Which strategy is the hardest?
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