“What do you do when your siblings won’t help with your elderly parents?”
If all goes according to plan, we’ll have the honor of taking care of our parents during their twilight years the same way they took care of us when we were kids. When a parent falls ill, becomes incapacitated in some way, or simply reaches an age when they become unable to care for themselves, taking care of them becomes a huge responsibility that can easily overwhelm the most productive and organized.
These issues increase in intensity if you, for instance, are the only one taking care of said parent. A sibling uninterested in helping an aging parent can prove problematic for the emotional and physical health of a caregiver, but you needn’t be alone.
This article by JEVS at Home outlines some of the reasons why and tips for helping when siblings won’t help with elderly parents.
Why Siblings Won’t Help With Aging Parents
“While their adult relationships may have been marked by decades of chummy phone calls and warm holiday dinners,” writes Barry Jacobs, author of The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, “brothers and sisters can quickly become locked in conflict about what’s best for Mom and Dad.”
Let’s look at some reasons why your siblings may be averse to helping with your aging parents.
They’re Too Busy
Caring for a loved one is strenuous, time-consuming work, without question. Aging parents require a variety of daily needs from vital medication to getting up and down from a prone position. If your sibling states they’re too busy to take care of your aging parent, it’s because that may very well be the truth–to them at least.
You see, taking care of an aging parent isn’t something that’s often planned perfectly. Family members responsible for the monumental task usually do so in addition to holding at least one job while attending to their children’s needs.
To balance all of these affairs requires diligence, time management, patience, and above all else a clear understanding of how long each task takes to complete. Time-blocking techniques can alleviate the burden of remembering daily tasks, but how many people do you know that schedule their days perfectly? Not many, right?
Taking Care of Elderly Parents Is Expensive
Let’s say that you or perhaps your sister or brother do have the time to take care of your elderly parent. Chances are, you have that freedom because you’re not working a full-time job. If that’s the case, you’re not getting a full-time income, something necessary to take care of an aging loved one.
Make no mistake, caring for an aging parent is expensive. They require pricey medications and treatments, and devices like wheelchairs and walkers. Because you can’t be available 24/7, they might need additional services from on-call medical caregivers.
These things add up quickly. If you’re not prepared financially to take on the cost, and if insurance cannot or will not foot the bill, very few options are available. According to data from a national 2020 study, nearly one in five Americans are providing unpaid care to an “adult with health or functioning needs,” and 24% of the country is caring for more than one person.
There are options available to help lessen the financial burden. If your aging parent has Medicaid, for example, you could have access to a fund intended to help with expenses related to caregiving. Contact your state’s Medicaid program for more details.
If your parents are military veterans, there’s several organizations offering help in the form of grants and monthly stipends. Contact your regional VA office to see which benefits apply to your situation. While it’s important to stay proactive when asking for outside assistance, remember there’s a fine line between pestering and persistence.
They Can’t Handle Seeing Their Aging Parent in Pain
When a sibling says something along the lines of “It hurts to see mom like that,” your immediate reaction may be anger or irritation. It’s understandable. Who in their right mind enjoys seeing their parents in pain?
We don’t care for our loved ones because we enjoy their discomfort. We do it because we love them and want to help them the same way they helped us when we were too young to do so.
Your gut feeling that a sibling may be covering up for another motive when they say “they just can’t” see your aging mother or father is spot on. In situations like these, it’s normally the case that one of the aforementioned reasons is the culprit. It’s not that your sibling is being dishonest with malicious intent. It’s more likely they’re hiding some emotional weakness.
Pressuring your sibling might create a rift, so try calmly describing the emotional and physical toll caregiving has taken on you. Also, explain how splitting or sharing the responsibility would alleviate some of that. You wouldn’t be alone, either: The National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) reports that 23% of Americans say caregiving has made their health worse.
There are ways to manage stress as a caregiver to help alleviate some of the mental strain that comes from caring for your parents. But, calmly talking with your siblings and explaining the toll caring for your elderly parents has on you may show them how much you need their help.
Tips for When Siblings Won’t Help With Elderly Parents
It’s important to delicately handle conversations with your sibling about your parent’s caregiving. The last thing you want is them to throw their hands up and proclaim they’re “done.” Even if they’re clearly not interested in sharing responsibility, you’ll need all the help you can get if you want to properly care for your elderly parent.
If you have more than one sibling, getting the lot of you in one room to discuss the matter can turn into a chore or even a heated debate. The first order of business, then, is to get all parties to agree upon the aging parent’s prognosis, a task Jacobs says is amongst the hardest.
“While siblings often claim to have equal investments in a parent’s well-being, they tend to have wildly divergent notions of what Mom can still do for herself,” says Jacobs.
Agree on the Prognosis
Before a family meeting begins, kindly let all participants know that the meeting is structured with specific time limits allotted to each so everyone gets an equal say. Calmly convey the latest information from your parent’s physician and your understanding of it. Then ask everyone to share their thoughts and feelings on that information.
For siblings who disagree wholeheartedly with the doctor’s opinion, remind them that it’s just that–an opinion. It’s possible, even likely, that you won’t get a sibling to change their mind on the matter.
The best resolution to push towards is agreeing to disagree. Make a deal with your sibling that you’ll take medical matters as they come on a case-by-case basis, and if anything were to change with your parent’s diagnosis you’ll meet to discuss further options.
“If the meeting has been at all successful, the siblings’ perceptions of their parent’s circumstance are more aligned by its conclusion,” Jacobs says.
Don’t Expect Equal Responsibility
Managing expectations is a critical skill that holds significant weight during the caregiving process. Media psychologist Emma Kenny has a great explanation on why we create expectations:
“Expectations exist because we are brought up with an egocentric perspective. It’s about survival; in some ways, high expectations are protective as we are less likely to encounter destructive or abusive relationships with such an attitude.”
Start by communicating your needs clearly to your sibling. Do your best to make them aware of the delegation of responsibilities. You might be surprised at how productive a calm, simple conversation can be.
Another thing to consider is placing yourself in your siblings shoes. What are they going through at the moment? What are their struggles and passions? Practicing empathy, like managing expectations, is vital to operating at your very best.
Beyond that, it would be unwise to expect your sibling to split duties with you directly down the middle lest you seek disappointment. Expectation is the precursor to disappointment, so manage yours and keep your mental health top of mind (no pun intended).
When They Live Elsewhere
Speaking of expectations, you can expect that whomever lives closest to the older parent will be tasked with the majority of the responsibilities. This isn’t an opinion but rather hard data. The NAC reports that 26% of family caregivers have difficulty coordinating care, up 6% from 2015.
When a sibling uses the proximity from your aging parent as an excuse to skirt responsibility, pleasantly ask them if you can assist with shopping or babysitting needs. Again, practice empathy–what roadblocks do they have in helping care for your parent? Simply showing your willingness to help may be enough to spur your sibling into action.
If your sibling does take you up on the offer for help, follow through and deliver on your word. It’s possible that your sibling isn’t aware of all the wonderful things you do to take care of your aging parents. Take this as your chance to show how dedicated to the task you are. Your sibling would be hard-pressed to not follow through on theirs as a result.
Be Direct When Asking For Help
Constantly badgering for help might push your sibling away. Instead, agree on meeting once a month with the purpose of updating a shared document as well as checking in on everyone’s mental and physical health. Consider meeting virtually instead of in-person to make attendance easy.
A family meeting is the perfect opportunity to let others know if your needs aren’t being met. Speak slowly and directly when asking for help, using examples of times you needed assistance rather than barking orders. Aim for painting a picture of your needs so your siblings can empathize with you and stay away from any kind of ultimatums or blame games.
As for the shared document, it should contain vital information. This includes unpaid bills, dates of medical procedures, delegation of responsibilities, medication schedule, insurance information, and general health status. A good tool to use is Google Docs–bookmark a shared link on your phone or home computer for easy access.
Along with these tips, remember to remain calm and patient throughout the caregiving journey. Manage your expectations properly and help your siblings do the same–equal responsibility rarely happens in these situations. If you need help, be direct rather than passive-aggressive. Lastly, practice empathy and hold clear communication between you and your siblings as high priority, right next to the delicate care of your sweet mom or dad.
How an In-Home Care Agency Helps
JEVS at Home connects you with the services and resources necessary to provide the best at-home care possible. Our staff understands the difficulties associated with at-home caregiving. They come fully equipped with the highest grade of support to assist you or a loved one. Don’t do at-home care alone. Call us today and find out how JEVS at Home can make the transition to at-home caregiving as painless and stress-free as possible.