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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. September 29, 2017 at 12:08 am | Posted by Nina

    My mother moved in with my husband and I about 6 months ago. It has been taken a toll on me. I have 2 brothers and 2 sister and I am the youngest. Non of my siblings are helping me financially or emotionally with my mom. Since she had moved in, I have been overwhelmed and extremely stress. Not to mention my work life has more demand and cannot get my siblings to help me. and financially. I have a lot of resentment for them and I don’t know what to do. My relationship with my husband is going downhill because I’m always stress. I have to do extra work so I can take care of my mom but I don’t think I can do anymore. My mother also plays the martyr and makes me feel guilty at all times. I’m not sure why I’m the only one that has to feel that way when my other siblings are living their life and I now have to be the only caretaker because they know I can do it. She thinks that I don’t care and that I’m trying to kick her out when in fact I’m only asking her to tell her other children to help. I cannot win for losing. I Hate the situation that I’m in and always feeling resentful towards family and guilt from her. I’m lost and lonely and I never used to be that person. The stress is killing me slowly. Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated.


    • October 19, 2017 at 10:53 pm | Posted by Vicki Jackson

      My mom moved in with me after the final hip surgery last spring, the big one. Fortunately, she had workman's comp and insurance help for home care. Even with this, problems arise. Her immediate needs were very custodial: cleaning her after all bodily functions, dressing her, lifting her, feeding her...basically, keeping her alive and restoring her health after it had declined in rehab from limited attention, poor food, and her depression. My siblings were counter productive. One, refused because he claimed he could simply not handle it and, to his defense, he had a son on drugs with problems who had moved back home. The other, was living in Denver. She did assist with emails to various key player in the bureaucracy of Mom's care. Ultimately, however, Mom's need to be helped fell to me.I had witnessed her decline for years. Even when I lived 15 miles away, I was her go-to person for appointments, both doctors and personal. Since she and I had always lived in adjacent neighborhoods, we saw a great deal of each other, as did my children, these over forty years. Mom was my friend and mom. I had been through hard divorces and she had been there for me. She had been through life with an alcoholic spouse, and his abandonment. I was there for her.It seemed natural that I would take Mom in during her final years. After eight years after a divorce, some family fallout over my living with Mom in her house to help, I moved into my own house. Even while looking for it, I always considered the space that would house us both were that time to come. Well, it did.I was hurt and angry at her when she did come. seven months prior I had left because I refused to live with my addicted nephew who Mom took in against my pleas. Rather than understanding as to my value to Mom, my siblings made me the villain. This disregard hurt, too.With some time to heal from this debacle, and some counseling; I still took mom in when my nephew crashed and burned and Mom was left abandoned in her house alone with no one to care for her and pending hip surgery.My house is suited to her needs. She has her own bedroom, on the same level as the kitchen, living area and bathroom. I installed a landline for her so she could contact friends and family. The insurance company pays for a caregiver and they had a ramp installed behind my house. With regular meals, love and PT, Mom has recovered and is much stronger. She walks with a walker and takes care of her basic bathroom needs, and dressing with limited help.Most days are harmonious. But her emotions are delicate. She still talks of going home to her townhouse, but this is an impossibility. She cannot manage her own care givers nor a house, nor can she be left alone. She realized her dependency and gets depressed.I am a single woman of 65, retired with grown children who live in two different states. Mom is my family and I benefit from her company and love; however, there are times when I long for my space. I think above all else, it is this lack of privacy that I miss and i stress over it. We both know that assisted living is out of her reach and that she must accept life with me or pay out of pocket about $6,000 a month.I also envisioned that we could have some fun. That expectation is soured by her depression, low ambition, lack of sight and diminished mobility. I get it, but sometimes I am depressed being around a person who is always a downer.It is paramount for me to exercise three times a week and to take daily walks. . As they say, use it or lose it. I see that Mom would have likely been more mobil had she taken better care of herself. I also try to eat better. This is hard because her eating habits require lots of dairy and fat. I cook balanced meals and consider myself a gourmet, but she is a country girl and eats plainly. I tend to share her meals and my weight has increased by 10 pounds since she moved in. Thus the need for exercise.Everyday is a challenge, but as we settle in to a routine and try to find some common interests, like book club, some stress is diminished. I try to make her laugh. This is all new territory to me as well. I am totally imperfect, but I also pray and turn it over to God.Just know that you are not alone. Siblings may be the least likely to understand or validate you. Folks like me out there in the universe, caring day-in-and-out for an elder parent get your guild and frustration. Give yourself some credit.


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