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

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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!

Last revised: January 5, 2016

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. February 13, 2019 at 9:24 am | Posted by I did it !

    My husband and I were 24/7 caregivers for my father who had Alzheimer’s and a few other health issues. My 2 adult daughters & their husbands have helped my husband & I more than I could thank them . My dad just passed away not even a month ago. We bought him to live with us after my mom passed away from cancer. I too come from a large family. Only one sibling lives in the same state as me ( she’s 40 minutes away ) she could have lived 40 HOURS away ! She & her family couldn’t careless about helping my family & myself care for our dad. She actually told me that “ SHE HAS A LIFE & THAT SHES BUSY !!! She would come to my house 1 night a week for 3 hours so I could run around like a chicken with it’s head cut off & try to get all my errands done. And he would go to her house every other Saturday ( as long as she wasn’t away on vacation or had plans !) Her & her husband go away every month for 3 days !! EVERY month ! Her daughter lives 11 MINUTES FROM MY HOUSE - the house that her grandfather lived in - my parents helped my sister raise her children, gave them a lot BUT my niece NEVER came here to see him, not once!!! The stress from being a 24/7 caregiver, from not celebrating holidays or birthdays with my husband’s side, to have to plan my daughter’s wedding & than baby shower while scheduling all his dr appts & everything else . All this while trying to still work from home which after a while I had to quit, really took a toll on my health. I ended up in the emergency room needed 2 blood transfusions bc I had a bleeding ulcer - which I never had before all the stress that comes with being a caregiver & didn’t know I had . And after my husband told her about me spending a week in the hospital, she still couldn’t even take our father an extra day so I could rest . When you are a caregiver, you have no time for yourself to even pay attention to any pain you might feel. Than to hear from someone else that she has the nerve to tell ppl that the both of us take care of our dad !! I told her that she couldn’t even name not 1 of his 7 doctors . Because she never took him to a dr appt in the 3 plus years that he lived in my house or even asked me ANYTHING about his health . To tell ppl that you took care of a elderly parent who had Alzheimer’s but all you did was watch tv with him a few hours a week is a joke. Taking care is, scheduling all appointments & taking him, calls to his insurance company, washing his soiled sheets & trying to change him without seeing him naked - so he could keep his dignity, cooking all his meals, answering the same questions over & over until all you want to do is bang your head against the wall, being a prisoner in your own house, putting him first before anything you might want - that is taking care of someone!! Plus having the emotional turmoil of a sister that could have & should have helped more . That same sister couldn’t even call her father on his last birthday- which we all knew it would be his last & not even calling on Christmas to say Merry Christmas to him !! To say that I told my sister that we will never be “sisters” again is a under statement!! She showed me just what she’s made of !! It is disgusting to me the way she & her family treated our father. If you never really took care of someone that counted on you for everything that they need 24/7 you have no idea what you’re taking about. I am proud of my husband, daughters & SIL’S and myself for the care & LOVE we gave to my dad until he took his last breath in my home. I wish all the caregivers that are reading this post all the best ! It is the hardest thing you will go through.

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  2. February 12, 2019 at 4:54 am | Posted by Martha W

    My mother-in-law lives alone but my sister-in-law and her husband live across the street from her. My husband and I and his other sister and her husband live just across town. Mom has lung cancer and fell just about a year ago (she is 92) so she stays in a recliner and is on oxygen. She absolutely refuses to talk about going into a nursing home. The two sisters take turns sleeping over at night and my husband (and sometimes I) goes over every day to sit with her, usually from about 10:00 a.m. until about 4:00 on one sister's day and 8:00 on the other's. All siblings are in their 70s and retired but we are all exhausted. We raised 2 grandchildren and still have one in high school. All other grandchildren are grown and have families of their own. Nerves are wearing thin. Our house is a fixer-upper and we can't afford to pay someone to take care of things. As we grow older we are feeling resentment because we are "just sitting" each day when there are things we need to be doing at home toward the time when we will not be able to do. Neither of the girls will even discuss with my husband the possibility of taking mom to assisted living. Everyone is exhausted and I can't speak for the girls but my husband is to the point where he just wants it all over with. Sad to feel that way but it is what it is. My parents are gone but my mom went to assisted living and I was still working but visited several times a week, knowing she was being cared for and I could still have a life of my own. I have told my children- and grandchildren (one who is designated as health care spokesperson) to do whatever they need to do (for the good of the many) when/if the time comes that I can't care for myself, no matter how I might protest because of my failing mind. Then I can be cared for as needed without any children having to suffer neglect or anyone not getting to enjoy their own lives and grandchildren as they deserve to do. I urge anyone to take care of these matters while you are in your right mind and please do not be selfish and expect your children to give up time with their families and obligations in order to do things for you that others could do just as well. Then they can visit with you and enjoy time with you without any resentment building up.

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  3. February 8, 2019 at 11:32 pm | Posted by L went

    So many of these are great on paper but not reality, I have 5 brothers and sisters, I simply asked if all of us CLD take 1 holiday a year and spend the day with mom if unable to travel , both my brother's Glen and Craig said they won't commit bc their families may be doing something, this was so me and my husband could spend time with his family too, nope, my husband had 3 deaths in his family in 6 months , mom dad and brother within two weeks , still wld not help us, they are all just very selfish people, it's only about them , and worst part is my sister in law keeps saying mom needs to move so she does not have to deal with and my brother allows, I sound awful but I am burnt out , have read all these great articles bit just can't get any of these things to work they don't want to help and will not , taking a serious toll, very sad.

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  4. February 6, 2019 at 6:55 am | Posted by Elizabeth

    I disagree it’s that it’s just selfishness, not taking care of a parent with dementia. My mom has Alzheimer’s. On a regular weekly basis I am fine caring for her. Of course, I’m tired, totally isolated, and beyond stressed. So I guess not all is perfect. What I can’t do any longer is never ever take a vacation until lord knows when.... my mom is agnostic- she believes nothing is wrong with her so she will NOT allow caregivers. I need to travel somewhere with my husband. If she were not agnostic and accept occasional caregivers I think I could do this, tough as it is. I am leaning towards placing her somewhere now because I’m tired of missing my grandkids activities, having weekends with my husband, not getting away. I’m depressed- need something to look forward to. Unless you’ve actually done this, you have no clue. Are caregivers supposed to give everything up? If your not willing to give up everything, does this seriously make you selfish? I’m not an only child, but I may as well be.

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  5. February 1, 2019 at 4:43 pm | Posted by Terra

    Sorry, but this article seems to be filled with all the platitudes uttered by someone who has not actually had to have their whole life disappear over many years, while having a hatred for a sibling fester and grow. A token appreciate and five minutes of sunshine is not enough to help one through a complete unraveling of their sense self and loss of peace, financial security, health and optimism. Not nearly enough. I hope others are doing better than I.

    Reply

  6. January 23, 2019 at 2:04 pm | Posted by Cheri

    My friend 's mother-in-law has the early stages of dementia and she is trying to bring her husband & sisters together to talk about all of this, to no avail. The mother doesn't want anyone going in to see the Dr. with her and no one asks questions. Can you give me any words of wisdom to pass on to her, she is just the daughter-"in-law". She has suggested things but they don't listen.

    Reply

  7. January 18, 2019 at 6:10 pm | Posted by K

    Wow! It is incredible that adult children won’t help to take care of their elderly parents. It was once told to me to have children so you will be taken care of in your old age. Don’t count on it! Adult children have busy and complicated lives. They don’t have time or money to take care of their aging parents here in the United States. It’s s a sad truth.

    Reply

    • January 25, 2019 at 1:54 am | Posted by ACE

      They have the time, they just don't WANT the inconvenience of having to be on the OTHER side of the parent -child relationship! Some family members have plenty of income, they just don't want to be bothered! Life has always been about THEM, now, it's NOT about THEM, anymore! They're BRATS! My family always taught me to care for the other members. That's what you're SUPPOSED to do! If you don't teach your kids that, they won't understand when it's YOUR turn to be helped! Kids, today, are Narcissistic adults, and it comes from NEVER teaching your child to share with others, and take care of their family members at a young age!

      Reply

    • February 1, 2019 at 4:34 pm | Posted by Terra

      Sometimes a sibling / adult child is just selfish. There are two of us but I've been the caregiver for 7 years now and running. My mom had Alzheimers so I cared for her until she passed a year ago. Dad has gotten very frail through it all so now he needs continued care. My 'sister' (I don't think of her as a real sister) decided she would help and live with him for one year. Her year is almost up, and she'll go back home and she considers her job done. My Dad is still alive. He still needs care. But that is of no concern to her. She made sure the will is 50/50 and she'll be on her way. The level of hate I have for her is suffocating. I'm looking for ways to come to terms with who she is and how much my life had to change and diminish while hers is completely in tact. I'm big on fairness and justice so this smacks me blind most days.

      Reply

  8. January 13, 2019 at 7:04 pm | Posted by Hopeless

    "Even five minutes alone in the fresh air, or half an hour with a good book, can help you feel refreshed and recharged."Sorry, that isn't enough to get recharged.

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    • February 1, 2019 at 4:35 pm | Posted by Terra

      So true. Most of this sounds like its written by someone who never had to do it for years on end, losing themselves, developing a hate for the rest of the family.

      Reply

    • February 2, 2019 at 10:06 am | Posted by Janet

      I so agree other that if you have difficulty aging parents perhaps one is handicap and is solely dependent on you yi know because I’m in that situation now myself you need at least a day away from the parent go for something that is uplifting and positive maybe a massage or something at a different location to where it is just your day that’s my thoughts and don’t answer the phone

      Reply

  9. December 26, 2018 at 1:47 pm | Posted by Karin Stitsinger

    I feel so much resentment today for my sister and brother. I’ve been taking care of my elderly mother with Alzheimer’s who needs total care alone but for maybe 16 hours since 10/7. How can my siblings hate my mom so much to not even send a Christmas card....or hate me so much to not care that this is killing me.

    Reply

  10. December 26, 2018 at 10:00 am | Posted by Sara Jones

    Siblings are not always responsible. Mom and Dad should make plans ahead of time. I cared for my Mom, as did one of my sisters, for five years pretty much full time. I quit my job to do this and would do it again. One big problem is that I had to go on disability for health issues. Disability SSDI, is based on the previous five years if employment. So, even though I have worked all of my adult life, because I took those five years off, I got SSI, which is $770.00 per month. I live in extreme poverty, although I have my own home. Talk to your local senior care Centers and to the Sicial Security Administration when you decide to care for a loved one. Even my son and daughter, who Mom loved and helped raise did not help with her. I am totally shocked at everybody. Christianity teaches caring and accepting responsibility. Now, I am trying to find work at 59, with no recent employment, a crushed ankle, other problems, and age discrimination. One sister and my daughter help me. Ian shocked at the family and also have lost respect. I would take care of Mom all over again. I love my Mom.

    Reply

    • February 1, 2019 at 4:39 pm | Posted by Terra

      I'm in a very similar situation - going on 7 years for me. It's horrible. I'm glad you love your Mom. I too, found peace with my Mom (after a lifetime of fighting with her - the one blessing of Alzheimers). But except for my little Dad, who I still must care for, I hate the rest of my family and my life is in tatters. I think I'm most angry that I, so far, cannot find any inner peace with it all. So sorry for your situation. I know it well and it is not good. I hope Karma comes your way soon! In solidarity ~ blessings.

      Reply

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