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Siblings working together to care for a Parent

November 2010

Aging parents begin to rely on their adult children more and more. In a family with multiple siblings there is the possibility that disagreements will arise over various aspects of care. Communication is the key to minimizing these disagreements. Here are a few tips on communicating effectively with regards to an aging parent.

If you are your parent’s primary helper…

Ask yourself what you really want

Help? Appreciation? To be in charge? Caregivers often feel lonely and unappreciated. If you want your sibling to check in once a week just to let you vent, say so. If you’re feeling lonely, let them know that you would consider it a big help if they would just call more regularly. If you would like them to say they understand what you are going through, tell them it would help to hear that.

If you think you “shouldn’t have to ask,” think again

This all-too-common belief implies that other people should read our minds and know what we want.

Ask for what you can get realistically

If your brother can’t stand Mom, don’t ask him to spend more time with her; ask him to order groceries or pay to hire someone to help.

Avoid making your siblings feel guilty

Yes, really. Guilt makes them defend themselves, often in angry ways—or avoid you.

If your sibling is your parent’s main support…

You still need to contribute.

Make sure you and/or your other siblings do what you can to lessen the load: maybe that means calling Mom every day so she’s less emotionally needy. Or calling your sister to say you appreciate what she’s doing. Helping an aging parent often starts out small but later becomes overwhelming. If you’re not there, you may have no idea how hard it is.

Try not to criticize or minimize what your sibling is doing

These are typical defenses against feeling guilty that you’re not doing more. If there’s an important issue with your parents, discuss it tactfully and with a little humility. Watch for any accusatory note in your tone.

Contribute time or money to give your sibling a break

If possible, change places for a few days or a week. If not, maybe you can pool some money and hire paid help, arrange meal deliveries, or a car service to take your parents to appointments, or even pay bills or file insurance claims on-line.

Provide emotional support

It may be the most important thing you can give. It may not feel comfortable to hear your sister chew your ear off for an hour about how Mom is driving her crazy, but it may be what she needs most—to talk to someone who understands and to feel she’s not alone.

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