How to share eldercare with siblings – without the fisticuffs

By Wendy Johnstone
January 22, 2015

I have a wonderful brother.

Mind you, he wasn’t always wonderful. In fact, I didn’t officially put him in that category until he was married and had a few kids under his belt. Up until that time and depending on the circumstances, he was either in the “awful,” “overprotective” or “suspiciously being kind for no reason” category.

Like any sibling relationship, we had our share of blissful happiness coupled with outright intense fighting and rivalry moments. We fought over everything; from the car to who did more chores that day, right down to who got the last piece of chicken.

It was interesting to see how my brother and I reverted to our childhood roles and rivalries when we had to make some pretty critical decisions about caring for our Dad.

Although my brother and I were beyond fisticuffs, the emotional ordeal of taking our Dad off life support and dealing with his estate brought conflict among all the siblings and at times, put our Mom in a very awkward position.

According to recent research done by Home Instead Senior Care, there are three key factors in sharing the care – the siblings’ ability to make key decisions together; reaching consensus on dividing the caregiving tasks and how well they work as a team.

How can you “share the care” without creating unnecessary conflict?

Stay on Equal Footing: Siblings who are the primary caregiver for their parents often become the “experts” and this feel intimating for long distance siblings or for those working full time or raising a family. This lack of confidence may come across as criticism simply because that sibling just “doesn’t know”. The primary caregiver can be so used to “doing it all”; they have a difficult time letting go of the reins. Being honest about what each sibling needs and inviting each other into a dialogue around problem solving puts everyone on the level ground.

Be Careful How Competent You Are: Caregivers need to be very competent when it comes to caring for elderly parents. Sometimes, siblings don’t realize the primary caregiver needs a break because they make it look so easy. Be open and willing to share your feelings of burnout and ask for help. And siblings, always assume that the primary caregiver needs a break!

Give Yourself Extra Time: One of the best way out of town siblings can help, is to come and help in person. There can be a lot to talk about, so prepare to come a little earlier so the primary caregiver doesn’t feel rushed or stressed about getting all the information down. Being specific about the type of help that is needed is also very helpful and primary caregivers should consider writing a detailed list.

Don’t Forget About Each Other: Take time to spend time with your brother or sister; nurture the bond and relationship you have. Keep the lines of communication open not just as it concerns parents but with your own lives. Your relationship with your sibling will continue long after your parents have died and it’s important to maintain those family ties.

Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Planning. Her column runs in the Comox Valley Record every second Friday.

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