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Family Won't Help with Mom? 6 Strategies to Reduce the Drama

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January 5, 2016

Chances are you spend a good deal of your life planning for the future. You plan your career path. You plan for retirement. But you may never have planned on becoming a family caregiver.

If you’re like many children of senior parents, you became a caregiver in small increments, over the course of time. Maybe it began by providing transportation after Dad gave up the car keys or by making phone calls to the insurance company to straighten out a health claim. As time went on, those favors likely became more frequent and you found yourself providing more and more care until you realized you were spending a significant portion of your free time taking care of Mom and Dad—perhaps much more time than your siblings spent pitching in.

Few people become family caregivers by sitting down with the whole family and creating a plan that covers the who, what, when, where and how of caregiving.

Unfortunately, this lack of planning can lead to family drama and sibling resentment. In discussions within the Caregiver Stress Facebook community, caregivers frequently express frustration over their inability to get other family members to help with Mom or Dad’s care. They often say they feel they became the primary caregiver by default and now shoulder the burden alone.

If you count yourself in that group—or if you want to avoid the sibling squabbles that can arise over family caregiving—take heart. It is possible, to a certain extent, to begin the caregiving conversation over again. These six tips can help you step back from any existing family drama over caregiving and create a plan to help you all move forward in harmony.

1. Start planning well in advance, if possible

It is never too late (or too early) to start the conversation. Even if you are well into the caregiving journey, you can access planning aids to help you move forward with more help from your siblings.

The 50/50 Rule® program, developed by Home Instead Senior Care®, offers resources for developing senior care plans that involve all of the aging family member’s children. Try to have your first conversations on this subject when the eldest sibling turns 40 years old, and continue to talk about how to share the caregiving before your parent even needs it. This way, no one sibling will “back in to” the caregiving role without the support of other family members.

2. Look at the big picture

For some families, the caregiving conversation begins with details: “I can’t possibly help take care of Mom because all of my kids are enrolled in extracurricular activities,” or “I live five hours away, and I’m not sacrificing my vacation time to fly in and take care of Dad.”

Instead of starting the caregiving conversation by diving into the details of everyone’s life, try taking a step back to look at the bigger picture. What types of support does your loved one need right now? What types of care will he or she require in the future? Once you have identified your loved one’s needs, then you can begin a conversation that gets into the details of which sibling can provide which types of support.

3. Take the emotions out of the conversation as much as possible

Siblings share an intimate personal history that sometimes includes baggage: hard feelings, old hurts. Try to set these emotions aside and deal matter-of-factly with your parent’s needs in the moment—and going forward. Keep the focus on achieving goals, not on your family dynamics. When you approach the topic of shared caregiving from a perspective of “here’s what Mom and Dad need, now how can we all provide it?”, the conversation may go more smoothly.

If you find it impossible to have these conversations without tempers flaring, consider hiring a mediator. These professionals can help bring everyone to a resolution without the hurt feelings that may accompany a do-it-yourself approach.

4. Match caregiving tasks with each person’s talents and abilities

Your older brother may balk at helping with caregiving if he is expected to bathe and toilet your mother. Your petite younger sister may not be willing to wrestle Dad’s walker into the car in order to drive him to appointments. Instead of insisting each sibling provide the same types of care, try to match tasks with each person’s abilities and interests. Perhaps your sister who lives far away would be willing to pay Mom’s bills and deal with other financial issues. Or maybe your brother who lives nearby would be happy to take Dad to his doctor appointments. There are many ways to divvy up the caregiving pie.

5. Accept that one person may always provide a disproportionate amount of care

You can’t force your siblings to help. That’s a simple truth. And even when you do get family members to commit to help with caregiving, you still may find you provide a disproportionate amount of that care. Try to come to terms with the fact that this is normal in most family caregiving situations. Acceptance may be easier in the long run than constantly feeling resentful.

If you feel undervalued for the amount of care you provide, try investigating ways to get paid for family caregiving. According to AARP, there are a number of methods that allow your parent to compensate you for the help you provide, including direct payment and tapping a long-term care insurance policy. Even if your loved one can’t afford to pay you much, sometimes receiving a token payment can help you feel valued.

6. Take care of your own emotional needs

High stress, isolation and depression are real dangers of caregiving, especially if you add in family conflict over caregiving issues. Although it can be hard to find time for self-care, be sure to make your own needs a priority. Even five minutes alone in the fresh air, or half an hour with a good book, can help you feel refreshed and recharged. If possible, hire a professional caregiver occasionally so you can get some time to focus on yourself.

How have you “shared the care” with your family members? Leave a comment below!

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. May 28, 2016 at 7:37 pm | Posted by Sherita J.

    I've been taking care of my mom now for almost 5 years. So I've experienced everything the article covers, especially sibling resentment.. The constant frustration is mom's combativeness (she doesn't have Alzheimer's as this may be a common behavior). Sometimes she's just mean and a bit demanding. I take care of everything: healthcare, finances, social activities. etc. She doesn't seem to understand or care that I'm under a lot of stress as her caregiver, being a new mom of two kids ( 1 and 2 yr old), and with my career. On the weekends, I just want to sit & watch kids play. Mama thinks I should be cleaning & cooking full course meals (though she complains about my cooking since she only wants "soul food" daily). I don't have friends that would quite understand nor family willing to help. Those that I could call seem tired of hearing about my complaints of being an under appreciated caregiver. Glad I discovered this website!

    Reply

  2. January 15, 2016 at 3:32 pm | Posted by Pearl

    I believe that all families should have the talk long before it happens and it should be as shared as possible. In this day and age everyone is busy, but one should never be too busy to care for a loved one. How would you feel if you had a crippling disease? I would hope my family would help me at least get by with important tasks, and if not that is not a true "family". Love should have no limits, just like marriage is for better or worse! I think this article is very good and needed to be read, thank you. Pearl Alvarez

    Reply

  3. January 14, 2016 at 4:40 pm | Posted by Dee

    Our Mommy is terminal and our Daddy is 90. The youngest daughter just moved in with our parents. There is 4 siblings...oldest brother lives in another state and youngest brother lives 3 hours ago. I live in the same town. You are right about resentment, if its allowed to come in between siblings. Me and my little sister, understand that we will be get a lot of help from the brothers, but we also know if we need their help they will be available. My sister cleans parents house, cooks and also works a job. I offer to take parents to doctors appointments and help my sister financially. With bills groceries, whatever is needed to help her out. One brother can also help financially, but the other can do things like heavy labor. So we work pretty well together and understand that this is a part of life and God has and will continue to Bless us in helping our parents. Love your articles. Thank you!

    Reply

  4. January 14, 2016 at 3:05 pm | Posted by Victoria J Arnold

    I don't have siblings to help with my mom, just myself, but these tips give me ammunition for getting my thoughts and actions together. I had not thought about asking the extended family in the near by communities for help, but the possibility to do so has made me aware of different strategies that may be available to me in the near future. Thanks for your help! Warmly, Vicki

    Reply

  5. January 14, 2016 at 1:50 pm | Posted by Pam scruggs

    Many many thanks for this insiteful article. I feel like it was written especially for me and my situation. Home instead has rescued me and I am in a better place than some. But it's still hard being the main responsible caregiver. And it's difficult not to allow emotions to come into play .

    Reply

  6. January 14, 2016 at 11:14 am | Posted by cecilia

    The only suggestion out of the 6 that is useful is "taking care of your emotional needs." In this country adult children abandon their parents when old age approaches. It is the rare family that will care for their elderly parents.

    Reply

    • January 20, 2016 at 7:24 pm | Posted by Thea

      Cecilia, I think there are many reasons why it is less common for children to care for their elders in this country, where the cost of living is high and stresses multiple for adults trying to raise a family. However, as the oldest daughter caring for my terminally-ill 92 yo mother, as well as my father, in my home I have to tell you that I've met a lot of people in my position. So not everyone is abandoning their parents. Most of us are afraid of being left alone when we are old and ill. What we can do is work with the situation we are dealt with as much love and acceptance as possible. It can be a deep and rich learning experience, the other side of painful, exhausting, and draining. I hope you can care, and be cared for.

      Reply

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