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Managing caregiving with siblings can be frustrating

When caring for parents, conflicts with siblings are frustrating and stressful for the primary caregiver.

In an article from Next Avenue, experts answered two top reader questions about caregiving with siblings:

  • What can you do when siblings don’t help with aging parents?
  • How do you handle conflicts when some siblings live far away and some are nearby?

Here, we summarize the key points from their 6 tips for working with siblings to care for parents.

6 tips for when siblings don’t help with aging parents

1. Don’t expect equality
It’s important to have realistic expectations. Caregiving responsibilities are almost always divided unequally. Typically, one or two siblings will take on the bulk of the work. Rather than expecting that everyone will do an equal share of the work, focus on what each person can do, even if it’s not as much as you’d like them to do.

2. When a sibling lives elsewhere
The amount that a sibling can help does depend on how close they are to where the parents live.

It’s natural that the people who live closest will be the ones who can help pick up a prescription, go to a doctor’s appointment, or rush to the ER in an emergency. The long-distance siblings should try to help however they can, but they should also let the nearby siblings be in charge.

Too often, long-distance siblings try to tell others what to do when they don’t even have a full understanding of the situation – making the nearby siblings angry and frustrated. If you’re the nearby sibling, ask your long-distance siblings to help with research or paperwork, contribute financially, or come for a visit and take over the caregiving so you can take a short break.


3. No one is a mind reader
When siblings aren’t there to witness daily life, they often don’t understand how much the caregiver is doing.

Expecting a sibling to know when their help is needed isn’t realistic – they won’t be able to read your mind. That’s why it’s important to ask for help when you need it. And if siblings refuse to help, seek help from community resources, friends, or hire professional help.

4. Knowing when to let it go
Some siblings in the family may refuse to help care for your parents or may stop helping at some point. If they aren’t willing to work on resolving the issues, the best approach may be for you to just let it go. Trying to change someone is not likely to be successful and will only add to your stress and anger.

5. When your sibling is out of touch
Sometimes siblings don’t do their share of the work because they don’t think there’s a problem or they’re in denial about how serious the situation is. When that happens, it helps to share information with them in a formal, regular way – like via email, conference call, family meeting, etc. Make sure to share doctor’s notes, diagnoses, test results, etc. Having the facts may help them realize what’s happening and how much help is truly needed.

6. Acknowledge each others’ strengths
Each person has a different personality and strengths. Some people may be well-suited to hands-on care, some may be great at navigating the healthcare system, some might be good at running errands and fixing things around the house, and others may be great with financial and legal paperwork.

Recognize each person has strengths and weaknesses and ask each sibling to help with the tasks that they’re best suited to do.


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