Aging Parents Care – 10 Ways to Deal With Siblings Who Don’t Help

  • 18 Comments
  • Posted on Sep. 4th, 2010

By Martin Sabel

When the health of an elderly parent starts to decline, typically one sibling who steps in to become the primary caregiver. The demands start out small. Care is easy at first. But as care demands more time and money, stress builds and so can resentment toward non-contributing family members.

Old rivalries and jealousies raise their head and get in the way. The fights are typically over money and time, the two elements contributing the most to caregiver stress. So what do you do? If you want help caring for an elderly parent, you need to convince your brothers and sisters of it or find that help outside the family. With that as a background here are 10 tips to dealing with unhelpful siblings:

1. Accept that there is no such thing as “fairness” when it comes to family care giving. Someone in the family always shoulders a disproportionate amount of the load. Life is like that. Should it be that way? No. But wishing for something different only makes matters worse.

2. Open up the lines of communication with every family member, even those you don’t always get along with. Let them decide how much they want to be involved.

3. Have a family meeting to get everyone’s view point on elder care needs. What you are seeing may not be what others see. What you think is critical may not be and visa versus. Having other viewpoints can be helpful.

4. Do it now. Waiting only makes matters worse. Don’t assume someone else in the family will take charge.

5. Put aside your “shoulds” and focus on the taking care of your elderly parents. It simply doesn’t matter what you believe your siblings should do. What does matter is getting the help your aging parent needs, whether it’s from your siblings or outside the family. The plain, simple truth is you can’t change someone else. Only they can do that. Obsessing about it and “shoulding” on them only makes your life more stressful. None of this is about you anyway. It is about managing the care of an aging parent.

6. List all of the support your parent may need. Be specific: fixing meals, bathing, managing the checkbook, grocery shopping, taking dad to the doctors appointments, calls to advisors, picking up medications, checking out caregivers or living facilities, etc.. When you need help be exact: “I have a doctors appointment next Friday and need someone to sit with mom. Could you drop by no later than 9 am for about 2 hours.”

7. Identify and contact help available in the community. You’ll need it. Expect to roll up your shirt sleeves, too. It may take a lot of phone calls to find the resources you need. Start with your local Agency on Aging and the senior ministry at your place of worship. If you live in a large city, dial 2-1-1. If you work for a larger corporation, ask your human relations department what elder care resources they offer.

8. Accept whatever help each sibling is able and willing to provide. No one knows how another person thinks or feels or what’s going on in their life. One of my clients could not understand why her oldest sister would offer to help, but frequently welched on the promise. Later she learned her sister had enormous health problems of her own but didn’t want to burden the rest of the family with it.

9. Your attitude makes all the difference. Sure, it’s hard not to be mad when no one else helps. You only hurt yourself, though. Stress is not so much what’s happening to you as it is how you respond to it. Focus attention on the positives. Be thankful for those who help if and when they do. Beyond that pay no attention to those who under-serve.

10. Use outside sources to defuse persistent emotional land mines. Consider turning to a professional elder care mediator. The specialty is relatively new. but growing. They offer a respectful solution to family conflicts over the care of an aging parent. They offer a pathway to peace and family healing.

The bottom line here is to focus only on what you can accomplish for your mom or dad. Resenting siblings for not chipping in makes you feel worse and accomplishes nothing. If it is not in your sister’s heart to help, you can’t put it there. Accept the help you get. Do what you know you can do and find outside help for the rest.

With the right information, you can reduce caregiver stress, keep your life in balance, save money and get better care for your elderly parents. To help you solve the problem of unhelpful siblings, I invite you to instantly access my FREE Weekly Elder care Advisor. You’ll discover both practical care giving strategies and important resources for takingcare of elderly parents without bankrupting yourself emotionally or financially.

  • 18 Comments... Add your opinion!
  1. On Sep. 5 2010 @ 9:08 am Despr8Caregiver said

    Paula Span in The New Old Age recently posted on various on line methods of coordinating care among family members, friends and others. This post can be seen at
    http://newoldage.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/09/03/coordinating-help-for-a-neighbor-in-need/

    My husband, my sister and I share our experiences as family caregivers and offer support and resources to caregivers at our blog Inside Aging Parent Care http://www.desperatecaregivers.com

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  2. On Sep. 7 2010 @ 7:04 am Keith said

    Involving an objective professional in the planning and eldercare management process is money well spent. You gain efficiency and an enormous reduction in family stress. Ultimately it is less costly when you consider family time away from work and the inevitable missteps when you try to create a plan from scratch with no experience.
    Keith F. Barnaby, Esq.

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  3. On Sep. 10 2010 @ 2:30 pm Alexandria said

    Thanks for mentioning use of a neutral mediator to help facilitate discussion and agreement among family members concerning care of an aging person. Families can use a mediator to facilitate agreement on any issue, not only care giving and financial responsibilities, but anything that is causing friction such as business succession planning, estate planning, or even particular disagreements among siblings. I also strongly agree that it’s much better to mediate sooner rather than later. First of all, the challenges only increase as time goes by. Second, addressing conflict earlier helps parties develop better ways of relating before the conflict has festered and become divisive. In other way, the best way to keep peace is not to ignore the problem, but rather to face it and work through it before it gets worse! I’ve written an article on my own blog about use of mediation and how to choose a mediator, linked at http://bit.ly/aPI0KE . I hope you might find it to be a helpful resource.

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  4. On Sep. 10 2010 @ 6:07 pm concetta said

    i don’t buy any of this. i have two older brothers who do NOTHING! i’ve had meetings, talks, emails–nothing seems to work. they are both married w/o children. i have a son in college AND i am disabled. i am at my wits end, i’ve tried everything. when i ask my mother to call her sons, she seems reluctant to ‘bother them!

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  5. On Sep. 11 2010 @ 9:03 am Lone Wolf said

    I’m with Concetta on this one that this is a lot of hogwash. My sole caregiving went on for 10 years, and it was never easy. Two older brothers and other relatives refusing to help. I, too, am disabled and nearly died caring for my Mom. She died last year, and I almost died with her, landing in the hospital the last week of her life after I checked her into a hospice. I was coming out of surgery and am told she died while I was still comatose. I held on till the very end. This did not have to happen. I am still trying to piece my life back together and the relatives still don’t get it. They could have helped prevent this tragedy. My physical scars are permanent, as will the emotional ones. We all have problems…I don’t buy it that some people just can’t help. Sadly, things are not going so well now for those who did not help, yet I derive no satisfaction out of that. In fact, I have to remind myself not to get sucked in and feel sorry for them. I have given and risked enough. I guess the phrase “what comes around goes around” and “karma” do hold some truth…of little comfort for all the tragedy that occurred, some of which could have been prevented if someone just lifted a finger to help. Guess I’m still the better person, for I just keep my distance and don’t make them feel worse. Funny, though, that now they are all clamouring to be my best friend and all of a sudden learned how to use a phone and want to get in touch all the time. Before, they avoided my mom and me like the plague. And finding community resources or help outside the family? Yeah…nearly impossible. Believe me, I pulled out ALL the stops. I would have given my life for my elder and almost did till it was no longer humanly possible. My mom was the same way — do everything for everyone that you possibly can and consider yourself last once all others are safe and sound. I am the only one of her children or others in the family, apparently, who listened to that lesson, and I am better for it.

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  6. On Sep. 11 2010 @ 9:07 am Lone Wolf said

    Thank you, Concetta, by the way, for your frankness. I’m with you. Stay strong. Everything will be OK. I am sorry you’re going through this, too. @concetta:

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  7. On Sep. 14 2010 @ 1:58 pm Wholesale medical said

    The attitude that helped me the most during the process was one single question. “What would I want my children to do for me if I was in the same situation?” This question has guided my caregiving over the last five years with my 76 yr old father. I understand my 3 siblings are not able to help me with our father. The duty falls on me and that’s how life is. On a good note, I’ve gotten to spend a much larger amount with my father in his later years and I will not ever regret that.

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  8. On Sep. 14 2010 @ 2:49 pm Lone Wolf said

    @Wholesale medical: Thanks to Wholesale Medical. You are right. Sorry — to all of you — that I was such a grump in my last post. My Mom died last year in September at the age of 80, and I am coming up on that anniversary, so I am quite oversensitive right now with my feelings all over the place. Plus, I am still phycially recovering from all the abuse my body took from taking caregiving to the extreme. I am so very grateful that I got the most quality time with my mom in caring for her 24/7 from age 70 to 80. I don’t regret one minute of it. I feel sorry for my siblings who are now crying bitter tears over all what they missed with my mom. It was a gift and privilege to take care of her no matter the consequences to me. God gave me that, and I did right by my mom, just as she had tried to raise all of us to do.

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  9. On Sep. 20 2010 @ 2:37 pm judy sweeney said

    I live in California and my parents live in NJ. My brother and sister-inlaw via an email from my niece have decided to no longer call, visit, help or have any contact with my parents. My parents are 90 and 93. They live on their own and take care of themselves. They are independent. My brother and I have not spoken to each other for one year. The last conversation was a screaming match. No one ever discusses anything with anybody in our family. This is nothing new. How do we open up the lines of communication? Is there ever a time when you just give up and do the best you can and let my brother and his wife do whatever they will do?

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  10. On Sep. 20 2010 @ 5:11 pm Lone Wolf said

    Your Message@judy sweeney: I beat my head against a wall for a solid decade asking for help from siblings, and they never changed. Very sad.

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  11. On Oct. 27 2010 @ 1:09 pm Elaine said

    What about out-of-state siblings? What kind of support can they provide? My sister-in-law is not willing to help out financially beyond the next 2 years (she is currently paying a monthly amount from a portion of an inheritance that she and my husband have “set aside” and both contracted to use this money only for their father’s care, which should last another 2 years.) He is in a residential home care facility but we (meaning I) take him to all appts, dentist, etc. Over the years it hasn’t been too bad, but the last 3 years has amounted to at least 5 hours a week (including 7 hr ER visits for phantom pain,etc..) My husband helps as he can, but being self employed, it causes a financial hit when he does help. I work part time from home and take care of kids, house, etc., on top of everything else. It bugs me that I lose 5 hours a week, and she doesn’t have to sacrifice anything. (5 hours may not seem like alot, but this is just the “average”, many weeks the time loss is much greater). In fact, she decided to work on her 3rd Master’s program (she is a teacher w/ a daughter and husband.) My FIL thinks she is so wonderful and complains to her about his care; he has nothing nice to say about what we are doing for him, and then she has the nerve to call and question us? My FIL has Parkinson’s with dementia, with some auditory and visual hallucinations, so he can have some pretty outrageous stories. She will call us and ask us why the residential home allows illegal immigrants to sleep on his bedroom floor and build a fire to keep warm……….??…(speechless). Sorry, I ranted there. I am at the point where I want to send him back to her to take care of the day to day grind, phone calls, meds, appts, dental, vision care for the next 14 years. She doesn’t understand that since he is only 76 and other than the Parkinson’s he’s healthy as a horse….he will probably live another 15 years before he needs a nursing home facility. Are we supposed to foot the bill so that she can get her 4th Masters, or go on an African safari instead of helping financially with her dad? If we do send him will he be shoved in a horrible SNF and left to die? My FIL may be nasty, but I’d never want that for him. Is it wrong to ask her to do tutoring or something else she may not like to do for 5 hours a week so I feel like she is sharing my pain here? I’d appreciate any comments or advice.

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  12. On Mar. 26 2011 @ 12:35 am Karen said

    Your story sound like mine. Your a good daughter. My Dad just passed away in January and my Mom is in skilled care now. I would do what I did for them all over again. Best of luck to you.

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  13. On Mar. 26 2011 @ 12:42 am Karen said

    I took care of my parents from out of state. They lived in PA and I live in FL. I have been taken care of them for the past 4 years from out of state. I am here to say it can work. However, I did have to take 4 family medical leaves from work in those 4 years. Dad just passed away in January and my Mom is now is skilled care. They lived in the family home up until June of 2010. Up until then it just was not safe anymore. But I just want you to know. You can be a caregiver from a distance. Best four years of my life. God Bless You All.

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