Question: I have the opposite problem to most. I am the youngest of five children and the only daughter. I have been taking care of my 86 year old mother for four years. My older siblings are physicians. They visit on special occasions such as her birthday, holidays, etc. They come in on a whirl wind with advice out the wazoo, wine and dine her for days and then they all leave. Then I am back to the daily care, doctor’s appointments, shopping, groceries, medicines. They call me constantly about her medical treatments and doctor visits. They second guess every order and prescription. I am at my wits’ end. I always feel inadequate, that I have never done enough or what I have done for my mother is never good enough. Yes, they do thank me, but they don’t deal with the day-to-day functions, or ask how they can help me. They advise me on what I can do for her. I feel they are invasive. My life is not my own, and none of them understands what it means to be the primary care giver. Signed...frustrated by siblings.
Dr. Amy: You are right: your siblings truly don’t know what it means to be the primary caregiver. Everyone has a piece of the puzzle, but you see the whole picture—up close and every day. This puts you in a special position because you have information no one else does.
I encourage you to be more open about the care you are giving, and also to be clear about the help you need. You may find it easier to communicate via email, especially since there are so many of you. You can do a family note and write everyone at the same time. Start by saying that you are writing because you know they all care about your mother, and that you want to do a better job of keeping them informed. Rather than simply listing the tasks you perform, try to blend in some interesting stories. Did something funny happen while you were out shopping? What did the doctor have to say when you took mom to her appointment? Did you two share an interesting conversation—did she tell you a story from her past?
Writing regularly will take time but it will also help you. When your siblings have a clear picture of what your days looks like, they will better understand your need for help. They simply don’t know everything you are doing, and they don’t know what you want them to do to help you. This is not unusual in my experience. You are doing a wonderful job of caring for your mom. Celebrate and share the good moments with your siblings as well as the bad. Share your feelings (while being careful not to blame). Make specific requests that are appropriate to your siblings’ circumstances.
Ask for help for yourself, not just for your mother. When you have the support you need to take care of yourself, you are better able to care for your mother and avoid burnout. Too often people look at the primary caregiver as a means to an end without considering the needs of the caregiver herself. Your challenge is to help them see the whole picture, and that includes you.
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