Judson Haims: Ease sibling tension when caring for elderly parents
March 12, 2018
Providing care for aging parents is complicated and stressful. It can put tension in every relationship, especially between siblings who often have decades of complex dynamics with each other — sibling rivalry doesn't go away because a parent's sick.
Even in the most supportive families, there is baggage and differences of opinion. That's normal.
Sibling rivalries can reappear. Wishes for parental approval and love, whether you realize it or not, may become an issue. And certainly, there will be disagreements about the kind of care, who will provide it and how much it will cost.
There is no single playbook when the tables turn and a child becomes a parent's caregiver. But there are a few things you can do to help alleviate tension and disagreements as you navigate the emotional, physical and financial stressors to help get back to enjoying each other and your mom or dad — including respite care when caregiving becomes overwhelming.
Communication is key in all phases of caring for your parent.
Recognize and discuss how family dynamics play out with each other. Be honest with yourself and each other about the roles you all had as children and may continue to have as adults. Make sure to listen to the needs and concerns of your siblings. Be mindful of the language you use and steer clear of accusatory comments.
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Plan family meetings monthly or weekly to keep up with important decisions. Let technology help with these. You can chat via video calling, using various apps, or internet-based programs. Share all information with each other, including care plans, financial outlooks and other important information.
If these meetings become contentious, consider reaching out to a professional facilitator, friend or third party to help mitigate and help keep these essential touch-base meetings positive and productive.
It is easy to revert to the roles you each had as children, even though you are now adults — the bully, the shy one, the overachiever. But you all have matured with age, and working together for your aging parent is the most important goal to keep in mind.
Studies have repeatedly demonstrated that daughters default to becoming the primary family caregivers to aging parents; however, there is no reason brothers should expect their sisters will handle all of this alone. That's an unfair expectation.
You don't have to wait to be asked. As an adult, you can raise your hand and offer help, especially if you see one or two siblings shouldering much of the work. Look for places where your unique talents or abilities can be applied.
Indeed, the roles each of you had as kids will resurface, despite your best intentions. These don't always have to be negative.
Maybe the oldest is the natural leader and an organizational whiz. These skills can be of tremendous help now when attention to financial and medical detail can make an enormous difference for your parent. Perhaps the middle brother was the aggressive one, whose modern-day tenacity is now needed to navigate insurance companies or the maze of medical information and decisions.
Maybe the youngest was the family clown who still, as an adult, cracks jokes. You most certainly will need humor in the weeks, months and maybe even years ahead.
Recognize that true equality will be as unrealistic just as it was when you were kids growing up together. One sister may live closer to your parent, another may have a more flexible job, while another may earn more and can contribute financially.
Caregiving is demanding and taking a break is often good for everyone. It is also important to frequently reassess the needs and demands on family caregivers. A caregiver who is consistently stressed or overwhelmed is at an increased risk for physical and emotional issues.
Judson Haims is the owner of Visiting Angels Home Care in Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale. visitingangels.com/comtns, 970-328-5526.
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