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How do I get my siblings more involved in helping me take care of our parents?


Question:  I have three brothers and sisters but they all live in other parts of the country. I live in the same town as my parents. I'm happy to do things for my parents, but I think my siblings believe they don't have to do anything because they live far away. How do I get them to be more involved in helping me take care of our parents?

Dr. Amy: This is a very common problem. Often, the family member who lives the closest becomes the main caregiver by default. And many people may occupy the role for awhile before they realize what has happened! It's true that you are best placed to help with certain tasks because you live near by. It is necessary for someone to be nearby in an emergency or if there are caregiving tasks that need to be completed in-person, or on a daily or regular basis. For example, if your mother slips in the bathroom, you wouldn't wait for your brother who lives across the country to fly in and get her up!  

That said, many tasks related to caregiving are not emergencies. They do not require someone to be available immediately. Many can be managed either long-distance or on a regularly scheduled visit. Some of these tasks include: home repairs that are not emergencies, doctor's visits that are scheduled in advance, financial tasks such as tax preparation, and anything that can be completed on the telephone.  Certainly, emotional support and checking-in by phone can be done from anywhere. 

Here are some tips to help you involve your siblings in caregiving. If possible, go through these steps with your family members so they don't feel bullied or pushed. You can do this through a phone conference call if you live far apart: 

  • Make a list of all of the caregiving tasks you can think of – knowing that this list will grow and change over time.
  • Decide which of these tasks can be done from a distance or during a regularly scheduled visit. 
  • Ask family members to choose tasks they are willing to take responsibility for.
  • Have a check-in meeting with each other on a regular basis. This allows everyone to stay involved, to talk about how things are going, and to discuss new tasks that may need to be added to the list.

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. March 17, 2011 at 12:09 am | Posted by Linda Emerson

    Siblings living out of state should be encourage to visit their parents who undoubtedly miss them. The visit should be long enough to take parents on a few daily outings to the park, out to eat, for a ride and to take pictures during these times to share with them later. When the siblings return home, they could put together a photo album with little notes below the pictures, and a few weeks later mail the albums to their parents. It would give them days of pleasure reliving the outings over & over again. But the visit is not only for the parents. It is even more important to give the sibling caregiver some much needed space and time off to recharge with a renewed sense of being able to cope for the rest of the year. It is very hard when you are the only one and it is all on your shoulders. If there are other out of state siblings, it would be nice if the other siblings would plan a trip a few months later. It would give the older folks another nice visit in which to look forward. Even a whole family reunion would be fun the following year. You don't know how long your parents will be around, and you'll be teaching your children a valuable lesson in love & caring. Besides it isn't fair to saddle one sibling caretaker with all the responsibility.


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