Have you ever said, "My brother doesn't believe mom has dementia" or "My sister insists my mother is fine and I’m just overreacting" or "My brother and sister don’t help out as much as I need them to." If you are caring for a parent and have siblings, chances are you have said one of these statements or some version of it. As you may already know, being a family caregiver comes with a lot of challenges. A few of the challenges faced by siblings caring for a parent generally entail trying to get everyone to agree on a care plan or simply accepting a parent's diagnosis. And while factors like distance, sibling rivalries and estranged relationships can make a challenging situation seem nearly impossible to resolve, it is important to not overlook some of the basic reasons your sibling may not be "on the same page."
Reason #1-Your sibling is only getting a snapshot of the situation
For siblings who live at least an hour away from their parents or have a hectic schedule, they may find it easier to keep tabs with them via phone. While this is a great way to keep up-to-date with what is going on in a parent's life, it doesn't allow for a detailed view of things like cleanliness of home, medication adherence, personal hygiene, etc. As a result, when they are told by a sibling that mom/dad are not well, a common response can be, "Mom is just fine. I spoke with her yesterday and she sounded okay." Should you get such a response, don't immediately interpret it as a refusal to believe you. Instead, talk specifically about the changes you are noticing with your parent with regard to the home, finances, social life, etc. Doing so can give your sibling a better view of the entire picture and hopefully get them on board to assist. If your sibling does get on board, check out the post "I Am Worried About My Loved One" for some next steps to consider.
Reason #2- Your brother/sister may be in denial
Denial, for some adult children, is used as a defense mechanism for a variety of reasons including adjusting to mom or dad's need for assistance or coping with changing roles. Fear can also play a huge role in preventing some siblings to accept what's going on and inadvertently create a barrier to assisting with caring for your parents. One of the best things you can do for a sibling you believe is in denial is to give him/her time and space for the change to sink in. Insisting or arguing with your sibling about who is right and wrong will simply push him/her away. How much time you give your sibling depends on factors like his/her personality, upbringing, resiliency and relationship with your parent.
Reason #3 Your sibling is not emotionally capable of dealing with the situation
A big part of being a caregiver is the ability to come to terms with what is in front of you and forging ahead with a plan of action. For some siblings, however, they're unable to emotionally handle such a responsibility for a variety of reasons. And rather than relay those reasons to you, they may instead withdraw from the situation and make it appear as if they don't care.
Barring any past conflicts, sibling rivalries, estranged relationships, etc., you may have to realize that your sibling may not be strong enough to cope with what is going on. Yes, you yourself may not be as strong but since you are the person stepping-up to the plate you need to ask yourself "How much time and energy can I afford to devote to trying to convince my sibling to help with our parent(s)?"
Your answer lies in your response to this question. If you have time to spare and want to spend it trying to convince your sibling why they should be more involved, then by all means go ahead. But in my experience, many caregivers, especially primary caregivers, rarely have time to spare, and if they do I generally advocate that they spend it by taking care of themselves.
Ultimately, caring for a parent is difficult and yes we would like to have as many people on deck to help out, especially our own siblings. The reality, however, is that the caregiving role never plays out the way we envision it and for our own health and sanity we have to make wise decisions about which battles we choose to fight.
If you would like to share tips or suggestions regarding sibling conflicts and caregiving, please do so below.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.