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Caregivers: Are your siblings driving you crazy?

Let’s face it: Siblings have spent a lifetime perfecting the art of bickering and feeling resentful toward one another. So it’s little surprise that in the emotionally fraught arena of caregiving for an aging parent or grandparent, “issues” between siblings run hotter than the lava under Kilauea.

A lot of misunderstandings occur simply because the non-hands-on brothers and sisters have a hard time fully “getting” what life is like for the day-to-day caregiving sib. Maybe these insights from caregivers can help sibs to course-correct.

The 12 things caregiving siblings hate about their brothers and sisters are…

1. Calling to ask how the person being cared for is doing – but not asking about the sibling caregiver.

This one’s easy. Your sibling wants to know a) you care about him or her, b) you appreciate the responsibility she’s taken on, and c) you’re ready, willing, and able to listen if she needs to vent a bit.

2. Offering to help – but always having other plans when the offer is called in.

We all have to make our own decisions about how we spend our time. But if your “I can’ts” outnumber your “sures” then your equation is off, and not helpful. Try making specific offers for things or dates you’re sure you can follow through on.

3. Canceling your help, especially at the last minute.

Even worse than not ever being available is to promise to do something and then skunk out. Conflicts happen, but for caregiving sibs, last-minute changes can be impossible to roll with – costing money or a cancellation of their own plans.

4. Fashioning elaborate excuses why you can’t help.

Boils down to: You can, or you can’t. Justifying your busyness isn’t necessary or helpful.

5. Wanting to be praised and thanked endlessly – for the tiniest little thing.

Hands-on or live-in caregivers do unimaginable grunt work 24-7. So when you take the gang out to brunch or volunteer to run some errands, it’s wonderful. It’s just not kudos-worthy, at least not from your sibling.

6. Never asking how the money’s holding out (the parent’s or the caregiver’s).

Understandably, it’s awkward–and you don’t want to appear to be prying into others’ finances. But taking care of someone is costly. Checking in on cash flow periodically can influence what kinds of plans need to be collectively made about care locations, support caregivers, adult day care, and so on. And it’s another way to communicate that you’re thinking about your sib.

7. Sending postcards from glorious vacation spots (when the sib hasn’t had a proper vacation in months or longer).

Better: Figure out how to whisk the caregiving sib away once in awhile. (Even an afternoon at a day spa can feel like a resort.)

8. Dropping in to visit – and expecting to be entertained.

You’ve been siblings a long time. You probably know where the coffee pot is! Better yet, take your parent out for coffee – or better still, a meal and a movie – and give your sib a break.

9. Ignoring distress signals.

Surreptitiously keep an eye on your sib for things like depression or stress overload. And when he or she shouts out for help in a more obvious way, answer. In a Caring Groups discussion on sibling support and lack thereof, one member wrote about shattering her elbow while caregiving, but none of her siblings realized she might need a little extra help herself!

10. Not offering to divide and conquer.

Lots of us are squeamish about changing adult diapers or have lifestyles that don’t allow us to be a primary caregiver. But looking after aging loved ones has many components, so try not to let one sibling shoulder physical care as well as finances, insurance, medical research, and so on. Dividing the components of care makes for a good checks-and-balances system, too.

11. Playing the “Mom always liked you best” card.

The parent-caring relationship can intensify the closeness of the caregiver’s bond with the parent(s). This is the silver lining of caregiving that many caregivers are blessed to know. For those sibs on the outside, there can be prickles of envy or jealousy. Know this, don’t blame your sib for it, and get over it. Everybody has a unique relationship with a parent, and it ebbs and flows over time.

12. Criticizing, whether to the sib’s face or behind her back (or especially to her spouse!).

If you see something you don’t like in a caregiving situation, it’s usually a good idea to speak up about it, so long as you can frame it in a constructive way. Don’t think Mom is being kept busy enough? Offer to take her to a senior center or fund an elder companion. Don’t like that Dad’s still allowed to drive? Present a plan to take away the keys and find alternative transportation.

As my mom used to say, “Be part of the solution, not part of the problem.”

(taken from, May 12, 2009, Paula Spencer)


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