Talking with your Siblings About Aging Parents
Caregiving, no matter how rewarding, is always a stressful experience. Watching our parents age will undoubtedly produce emotional reactions. And when your elderly loved one needs help to get through the day, it is often a painful experience.
Caring for an older parent in the way they need requires the entire family, including your siblings, to pool all their resources together. An essential step of the process is communication. Without that, lining up all the necessary elements can be a task bordering on impossible. One issue that frequently gets in the way as well is family dynamics coming to bear again. Old grudges and issues can sometimes cause a pattern of interactions that will play out across the caregiving process and hinder it. But understanding the root causes of any problems and friction is the first step towards improving it.
Often the responsibility of caregiving falls on the closest living family member. While this makes logical sense, it can also sometimes cause the adult child caregiver to resent any adult siblings who may have moved further out, to a different city or state or even country. And even in cases where multiple adult children all live close enough to contribute, oftentimes there will be one child who does more than the others.
Unequal distribution of responsibility can be for a number of factors, such as family or work responsibilities, long established family roles and dynamics, or social and cultural norms. In many traditions, the son is spared the responsibility of caregiving and such tasks will fall upon any daughters.
Another issue is the family member doing the duties of care may also be receiving advice from other family members, whether it’s welcome or not. This is particularly likely in families where one or more siblings lives out of state, and comes for a short visit home. During the course of their stay, they may want to make changes in how things have been done by the local family members, who may not appreciate hearing from someone who is only present rarely.
Having conversations proactively can head off some conflicts before they happen. When an emergency or crisis situation happens, it’s hard to have a productive discussion due to emotions running high and the time sensitive nature. Because of this, it’s best to plan ahead. But it’s also important to pick the right time to have any conversations. Everyone involved will need to be in a good headspace to make sure the discussion is productive. Don’t try to cram it in at the end of a long day when everyone is tired. Carve out time on a day specifically for it to make sure everyone has maximum energy and focus.
A good start to any conversation is simply to open with the truth. This will create common ground. Naturally, you all care for your parents and want the best for them. Setting a tone of acceptance and collaboration right off the bat will go a long way towards reminding everyone that you’re all in it together.