Question: I am the youngest and only daughter of my 87 year old mother. I have been the primary care giver for five years now. I have four older brothers who all have medical degrees. I do not, yet I believe I am quite medically competent. After five years, I have had enough of my brothers second guessing and diagnosing her over the phone. Her medical care is never good enough and I am continually jumping through hoops to satisfy their needs. It is hard enough to care for my mother let alone meet all their expectations and requirements. When I complain, I am put off because I am not medically trained. Yet, I am the only one close to the situation. How do I resolve this? I am pulling my hair out.
Dr. Amy: It sounds like you and your brothers are stepping on each other’s toes as each of you goes about trying to do what’s best for your mom. I am sure your brothers mean well, and yet they may not understand how difficult it is for you when so many are second guessing the doctor.
I encourage you to organize a family meeting to clearly establish who makes what decisions, who gets consulted when, and how you will stay in touch. The goal is for you all to feel that mom is getting the best care, that you have confidence she is being well cared for day to day, and that you all get regular updates.
You may have a better outcome if you have a facilitator chair the meeting. Sometimes, feelings run high and this can make it difficult to stick to the agenda and avoid getting sidetracked. If you are a member of a faith community, the leader could help you. So too can a geriatric care manager.
So, how to get started with your brothers? It’s important not to get their backs up. At the same time, it’s also important that they understand how you feel and you understand how they feel. You might try writing them an email. That way you can take the time you need to express yourself just the way you want to. I think people find it easier to listen when you start with a positive. You might begin by reflecting on the ways in which, for you and your mom, it is wonderful to have brothers/sons who are doctors. Next you might state what you imagine their needs and desires are with respect to your mom— and their relationship with you. After that you could broach the topic of how you are feeling and how you think a family meeting would help. Then ask if they would be willing to participate. It’s important to be clear that this is not about blaming or shaming. It’s about putting in place a sensible, effective, and harmonious team structure, so that everyone’s needs are met as much as possible. Good luck!
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