Sibling Wars & Aging Parents: Everybody is Part of the Problem – Part 2
Part 1 discusses the complications of why siblings don’t help, including the fact that parents are often a part of the problem. This blog offers proven tips on putting up a good fight and not letting siblings off the hook. The idea is to encourage brothers and sisters to pitch in.
Are you assuming your siblings know what’s going on and why you need their help? They may have no idea or understanding of the gravity of a particular situation. Be specific and share details.
Don’t complain, request.
Instead of saying, “You never help out,” say, “I know you have a lot going on at work and it’s hard for you. It’s hard for me too, and I need help with (bill paying, grocery shopping, cooking).” Or you might say, “Which works better with your schedule? Mom needs a ride to the doctor and needs help grocery shopping.” Discuss schedules. Set limits on the time and effort you can put in. Give specific assignments.
Fill the distance gap.
Be specific with siblings who live far away. Chances are they want to help but don’t know how. Ask them to do the following: call your parents on a regular basis; do research on options and services; make service arrangements; send money as a way of being helpful; suggest that parents stay with them once in a while.
Consult your siblings.
When important decisions need to be made, don’t accept “You do what’s best” as an answer. The decision-making burden is not entirely yours. Ask for specific involvement on your siblings’ part. Instead of saying, “What should we do?” try, “Do you think we should hire a home care nurse or look into an assisted-living facility?”
Call their bluff.
When siblings criticize, don’t argue or defend your position about how you’re handling your elder’s affairs. When they say, “You should take Mom to the doctor more often,” agree with them (that lets the air out of their argument) and say, “You may be right, and much better at this than me. Why don’t you take over this responsibility?” If the bullying persists, bring in a heavyweight. Ask a geriatric social worker to join in the next family discussion.
There is more than one single or simple answer to every eldercare problem. People are unique, and bring to the caregiving situation different life experiences, values, abilities, preferences, relationships, and needs. When your siblings do things differently from you, let them do it their way. Give some of their suggestions a try, and let them know when things work for the better.
Stay on them.
When siblings agree to help; then drop the ball, get on the phone immediately and say, “Three weeks ago we agreed that you would help Dad with his laundry, and you have not done so. What will help you keep this commitment?” Make them as accountable as you.
Refuse to be anyone’s “middleman.”
Get parents and siblings used to talking with each other directly. You are not a messenger. If your sibling asks you, “How’s Dad feeling?” take yourself out of the middle by saying, “I really can’t answer for Dad, it’s best if you ask him yourself. Why don’t you give him a call?” The more they connect, the less the burden on you.
Don’t allow yourself to be drawn back into childhood stereotypes. Be the responsible adult you are in all of your other relationships. When fighting erupts, focus on issues and not people. Don’t react when someone else brings up ancient family history; it’s not worth your energy. Stop apologizing for having a different opinion.
Let your parents do the talking.
Next time Mom asks you to drive her somewhere, tell her you’d love to but you already have plans with your family. Suggest that she asks (name other sibling) to drive her. Don’t make the call for her, let her do it herself. Siblings may have a tougher time rejecting a parent’s direct request for help.