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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. July 11, 2017 at 1:29 pm | Posted by tina gibson

    I live at home with my mother inlaw , she has a son and daughter. they do not help me at all .my husband works all day her daughter gets social security disablily and does not live hear either. she always brings up about her moms house. willed to both her children. very wrong to bring that up to her upsets her too


  2. June 15, 2017 at 10:46 am | Posted by Kristof H.

    Seven years ago I went through a divorce, and my mom called me to announce she had to move in with me. I have four brothers who apparently don't have a pot to piss in and don't do squat to help financially or otherwise. The can't even call her. The above strategies sound great and all, but reality sometimes trumps strategies. Seven years later, I have a wonderful girlfriend with whom I would like to live; however, I can't. I have to stay in my house with my mom for which I pay everything including utilities which have doubled in the past seven years. I am a public educator, so I don't make a ton of money, but that's really not the point. My siblings should be pitching in no matter what. I have washed my hands of them, since they apparently don't give a hoot about mom and her situation, not to mention mine. Sorry to vent, but it helps a little. Hugs and commendations to all who take care of their elderly parents.


  3. June 1, 2017 at 4:15 pm | Posted by Julie

    My husband has three siblings who are not helpful with caring for their 95 year old mother who lives at home alone. This is taking quite a toll on our relationship. His siblings will not pitch in because "we live here". I haven't been on a vacation for many years. Any suggestions.


  4. April 25, 2017 at 12:15 pm | Posted by MaryAnne

    My father passed away last year. My mother lives in the house connected to mine. I am one of five daughters. I have two sisters who live a distance away and two sisters whom actually live up the street from us. I am my elderly mothers main care giver. My sisters will rarely even visit my mother. I am so hurt how they promised my father they would help care for mother, but they do not. I don't know what to even say to them. How could family do that to each other? Any suggestions? Its almost like they are afraid if they get too close to my mom it will hurt more when she passes one day!!!! I find it unforgiveable for them to do what they are not doing for our mother.


  5. April 16, 2017 at 10:08 am | Posted by Bubbly

    My dad passed away accidentally in 2016. My mom had to sell our house and deal court matters alone as my brother won't help her in any way. My brother got married 10 days before my dad passed away. Me and my sister lives abroad and not possible to be with my mom in bad times like this.Currently, my mom lives with my brother but my brother is having financial issues and he can't afford my mom's expenses. I have been helping on and off with the money and all types of emotional support. My sister-in-law and my mom do not get along well. Infact, my brother is thinking to move my mom out of the house for that. I am worried that if my mom lived alone and something happened to her, we won't be there.I have been having lots of emotional conversations with my brother. We are going to lose each other as siblings in this matter. But I just don't know what to do in this situation. Can you suggest anything please?


  6. February 15, 2017 at 1:12 pm | Posted by monica

    I'm Monica, I'm 27 years old and Ive been caring for my paternal grandmother full time the last three months. Ive always lived less than a mile from home(my grandparents) I was adopted and raised by them and I feel it is my duty to care for them now, at this time my grandmother has dementia. My grand father is still mentally sound and takes care of her transportation and monitoring during appointments. She can still be quite a handful. trying to go outside at all hours of the day/night to tend to the voices of people or following sounds she herd. She has hallucinations of all kinds constantly. She's on a full rang of medications for her ailments but they don't seem to work. then again I guess it could be worse. I don't sleep much and I eat when I should. I've decided to go to school get my chap( home health aide) to better care for her and my grandfather. Once that is completed ill continue to further my education in this field to better care for them still, until they pass. I plan on helping other families with what I learn once this has come to pass. For now I'm not sure what to do with myself besides carry on and deal with this as best I can. i guess i just needed to vent and maybe my story can help someone else find light in their situation.


    • February 25, 2017 at 4:30 pm | Posted by Darlene Begovich

      It sounds like you are doing so much so selflessly. You are a blessing to them. Take care of yourself as well and look into respite care so you get a break sometimes. God bless


    • April 18, 2017 at 3:26 am | Posted by Debbie

      Monica, you are amazing ! However, it does sound like you have put your young life on hold. Perhaps you could call Senior Services or Adult Social Services in your city or county and see if there are any day programs or day care groups that would be suitable for your Gran. You would have time for yourself and your Grandpa could have a bit of a break.


    • June 7, 2017 at 9:25 pm | Posted by Donna

      My son provided similar care for my parents - though neither had dementia. I think the dementia adds a huge burden and stress to caregivers. I hope you can get some respite. Some places have seniors day care or special respit care for families dealing with dementia. I hope that once you get through this all, you can look back and see what an amazing person you are. I wish you well.


  7. February 13, 2017 at 10:14 pm | Posted by Jen

    I want to help with my father's care but my sibling won't let me. She says everything has to go through her anyway. What do you suggest in this situation?


  8. 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!


  9. 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


  10. 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!


  11. 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


  12. 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 .


  13. 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.


    • 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.


      • March 5, 2017 at 6:11 pm | Posted by Maria

        Well when my dad passed away I managed to get him burried. But my brothers sisters get all the credit. I always with my my mom I work single parent. I buy her groceries I do not mind. I hand her money when she needs and she has my 1older child lives with her gives her what they want feeds on me. I barely making it others do not live far do even bother everything's is on me. Love my dad always will love my mom but i starting to forget about my appts and pay bills. One is going on vacation. One who lives with her is spending his money high maintenance stuff. My mom over her 70 what is wrong with this picture I do not need any credit. I am so mentally tired just a small break.


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