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May 14, 2013
“When it comes to caring for your aging parents, do you ever feel like your siblings are putting too much of the responsibility on your shoulders? Whether it’s day-to-day care tasks or paying the bills, if the division of labor is making you angry, it’s time to take action. Find out what the experts advise.”
What to Do When Your Siblings Are Taking Advantage
By Carol O’Dell, Caring.com contributing editor
Nothing brings siblings together — or tears them apart — like caregiving. It tends flush out whatever family issues you’ve all accumulated over the years. Care for an aging parent typically falls on the shoulders of one adult child: maybe the one who lives closest, is the oldest, or is single; perhaps the one who has some type of medical experience or is considered “the nurturer.” While having a primary caregiver is a good idea — that means there’s a central coordinator — there are more than enough care needs to go around (bathing and personal care, errands, doctor visits, multiple runs to the pharmacy, cooking, home maintenance, finances, and on and on).
Is there anything you can do to enlist your less-than-enthusiastic siblings to participate in your parent’s care?
Five Tips to Involve Your Siblings in Parent Care
1. Ask for something specific — and expect it to get done. Caregiving doesn’t come naturally for everybody. Some folks just don’t see what needs to be done. Teach them how to care by assigning them a task. Start with just one, like taking your mother to her physical therapy appointment every other Thursday. Approach your siblings as if their assent is a given: Of course they’ll help. Give the dates, times, and address. That might seem like more trouble than it’s worth, but get them started by doing all you can to make caregiving a can’t-say-no, not-so-tough thing to do.
2. Don’t micromanage or judge. Caregivers don’t want to admit it, but we’re a bossy bunch. We know how things should be done, and it’s easier to do it ourselves than to have it fail to meet our expectations. But that’s not fair. Your parents need all of their children. Let them have their own relationships, and even expect that some things will be done less than perfectly, or barely done at all. Resist the urge to interfere. No one will ever want to participate if they’re worried about being criticized.
3. Give your siblings tasks they’re good at — and let them shine. Let your brother order Chinese and rent a movie on Sundays, even though that makes him look like the “fun one.” Then ask him, while he’s in front of your parents, if he’ll also look at that drippy faucet in the kitchen. If he’s a fix-it kind of guy, he just might roll up his sleeves. Even if he’s not, it’ll be harder for him to say no if you ask in a nice voice and your parents or other family members are right there listening.
4. Adopt a team mentality. No matter how small a contribution the others make, even if it’s occasional or “just” financial, consider everyone part of the team. Thank them for pitching in. Include them on those day-to-day hilarious or pull-your-hair-out moments. Make getting together less of a chore. For example, have a spring clean-up day and get the whole family involved (grandkids, nieces, nephews). People need to be needed, so tap into that basic desire to make a difference. Take pictures and post them on a family blog. Wear tie-dyed t-shirts, put on music, and rake the lawn or accomplish home repairs together. Make it sound like so much fun that no one would want to miss out.
5. Learn to let go and find others who want to help. You can’t make someone want to care, and while that places more on your already exhausted shoulders, adding a grudge will only weigh you down further. Try to see just how scared and shut off your siblings really are. By not participating, they’re also not reaping the benefits: new memories, laughter and tears, valuable insights, and the deep sense of purpose you gain by giving. Take the focus off of them by finding resources in your community or at a local house of worship. Choose to let go of resentments and frustrations that will only sap your energy and rob you of a meaningful caregiving experience. As the old adage goes, “The best revenge (here let’s change that to ‘recourse’) is a happy life.”
Carol O’Dell is a contributing editor for Caring.com, the leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support as they care for aging parents, spouses, and other loved ones. For more ideas about positive family communications, see 5 Surprising Ways to Show Your Love
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