By Joy Loverde
Caring for aging parents is not always a family affair. Your brother doesn’t return phone calls. Mom makes demands on you and not of the others. Sis thinks you should pick up the tab for mom's care because you have the better-paid career. What other situations come to mind when you think of eldercare unevenly (and unfairly) undertaken among sons and daughters within the family?
Most of us hold down a job, and siblings who balk at sharing parent eldercare sabotage our productivity at work. How bad is it? Today, employees are quitting their jobs, retiring prematurely and taking a leave of absence to manage family eldercare responsibilities. A survey conducted by the National Council on the Aging reports high levels of stress, frustration, and guilt as caregivers struggle to balance work, family, caregiving, and personal obligations.
One thing is certain: you alone cannot assist your elder. Limitations of time, stamina, relationships, and skill can make you realize there is only so much one family member realistically can do. Getting siblings to pitch in begins with the fundamental belief that you deserve their cooperation providing eldercare.
Forget everything you’ve heard about resistant siblings. The reasons behind why one son or daughter gets left holding the bag are more complicated than you think. Everyone contributes to the problem, including you. Unresolved family issues play a major role, and when forgiveness for past hurts has not taken place, resentment, jealousy and emotional detachment override the willingness to cooperate.
“When Mom could no longer live safely at home, my sister adamantly refused my suggestion to move her into an assisted-living facility. She was more interested in controlling me than helping.” explained a seasoned family caregiver at a recent caregiver support group. Irrationality and defensiveness are signals that a struggle for personal power is present.
Economics can also be at the root of hostility, especially when personal worth between siblings is unevenly proportioned. “When Dad needed skilled nursing care, I decided to put him into the less expensive facility to reduce the risk of his running out of money. My sister accused me of trying to protect my inheritance,” says another friend of mine who has been in the role of family caregiver for over 5 years.
Even when siblings are supportive of each other, unrecognized strains may cause them to drift apart. For instance, a distant brother who feels guilty that his sister is bearing the daily caregiving might not look forward to hearing from her and is less likely than in the past to initiate phone calls.
What’s more, parents add fuel to the fire by driving wedges and playing family favorites. “Dad continuously let my brothers off the hook and instructed me that taking care of him was a ‘daughter’s duty,’ remarked a cousin of mine.
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