What to Do When Siblings Can’t Agree on a Parent’s Care Needs
For some lucky families, having all adult siblings gather around and plan how to take care of Mom and Dad as their parents’ health begins to fail is a great comfort. For other families, things can take a disastrous turn when siblings who never got along as kids and have had little to do with each other as adults are thrown together to make caregiving decisions.
For most families, navigating elder care decisions falls somewhere between these two extremes. Caregiving has a way of sneaking up on people, though. Generally, the adult child living nearest the aging parent(s) is who becomes, at the first sign of need, the default caregiver. That usually makes sense because proximity is a huge factor in how quickly or frequently a family caregiver can check-in on or assist a love one.
However, a few quick tasks and offers of help can quickly get out of hand. Your folks need some guidance on their Medicare coverage, so you stop over. Their yard is in desperate need of attention, so you start taking time away from your family to pitch in each week. Then it’s grocery shopping and rides to doctor’s appointments and then, well, you’re on your way to taking on a second job.
Preparation and Cooperation Are Key: Ideally, before things get to this stage, you’ve had conversations with your parents about how they want their needs met during their later years. They’ve hopefully designated powers of attorney for both health care and finances, drawn up a will, and finalized any other legal documents and financial plans. It’s best if all siblings are aware of these preparations and all agree with what they entail. This is important because taking care of aging parents is usually a family affair. However, life is seldom ideal.
Even in seemingly harmonious families, the person who slowly became the default caregiver can start to feel resentful. Out-of-town siblings can conveniently slide into denial because they aren’t around to see how much time and effort is involved. Through occasional visits and phone calls, all seems well with Mom and Dad, but it doesn’t occur to them that you, the in-town sibling, are the reason everything is going so “smoothly.” Some siblings may even be in total denial that your parents are as feeble or needy as you know them to be. This is a red flag that it’s time to consider how you are going to handle the spiraling needs of aging parents as a family.
Calling a Family Meeting: Most experts would suggest a family meeting, and I agree. Such a gathering gives the hands-on caregiver the opportunity to clarify the parents’ needs and explain all they do. It also gives the siblings a chance to learn about the situation, participate in care decisions and brainstorm how they can pitch in.
The goal is to determine each other’s strengths and maximize them to create a care plan that divvies up responsibilities more evenly. Will everything work out equally? Not a chance. But the hope is that the primary caregiver will no longer be responsible for every little thing their parents need. You’ll want to set a schedule to regularly check in with each other and update the whole family as needed. With a little effort and cooperation, families can come together and support one another in this endeavor. If this works for your family, congratulations! You can quit reading here.
Strategies for Getting Siblings on Board with Caregiving: Those of you whose families are a little less dynamic may not have success with a simple heart to heart. As is evident in the questions and answers…
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