How to work with siblings to care for an aging parent
Can’t we all just get along? If you’re having trouble working with siblings to care for an elderly parent, you may be asking yourself this question. Caring for an aging parent alone can be complex enough without having to arrive at medical, financial, and practical decisions as a team – especially if you struggle to agree on the simpler decisions of life. If you’re one of the many families dealing with conflict in caregiving, here are some strategies for making the process go more smoothly:
1. Step out of the past. Before entering into an important discussion about your parent’s health and care needs, you need to resolve any past tensions or conflict with your siblings. It’s easy to go on autopilot and end up reliving old childhood dynamics; address the fact that you’ve all grown up and aren’t the same people you were 30 years ago in order to have a productive conversation.
2. Remember you have the same goal. According to the AARP, when siblings coordinate efforts to care for parents, the parents receive better overall care. When discussing your parent’s care with your siblings, keep in mind that you all want your mom or dad to live a long and healthy life, you just may have different ideas about how to get them there. Remain composed when things get emotional (as they inevitably will) and remind yourself the stakes are high and you each want the best for your parent.
3. Step into each other’s shoes. Each sibling will handle the aging of a parent differently depending on their family relationships, personality, distance from home, and other responsibilities. How often a sibling interacts with their parent could also impact whether they recognize the warning signs that mom or dad is at risk. To help you understand the feelings of your brother or sister, try stepping into their shoes – this could even mean swapping care responsibilities for a day or weekend.
4. Have a family meeting. Instead of letting emotions or incidents drive caregiving conversations with your siblings, schedule a regular family meeting where everyone has an opportunity to express their concerns and contribute solutions. Here are some tips from PBS newshour on having an effective family meeting:
- Set an agenda for the meeting and stick to it.
- Focus on the present; try not to bring up past or unrelated issues.
- Share your feelings and concerns with siblings instead of making accusations.
- Listen and respect the opinions of all participants; give everyone time to speak.
- Share complete information. If possible, get a professional assessment of your parent’s condition from a doctor, social worker, or geriatric care manager and send the report to all participants prior to the meeting.
5. Utilize a neutral third-party. Sometimes an outside voice can help feuding siblings resolve their differences and focus on what’s important. Our friends at A Place for Mom recommend the use of advisors, counselors and mediators to defuse disputes. When the going gets really tough and feuds are preventing you from taking action, AgingCare recommends a Geriatric Care Manager to provide hands-on coaching and management of the caregiving process.
6. Allow everyone to contribute. Expect that equality is unrealistic (and possibly inefficient) and few groups of siblings will achieve a perfect division of care. Start off by assessing the needs of your parent and what resources are available to you; then allow everyone to contribute in their own way. Whether a sibling gives in their time or money, it’s important that others acknowledge their efforts. Create an environment of support and positive reinforcement from the beginning to ensure your caregiving “team’s” success.
7. Use technology to relieve burden of care. When it comes to caring for an aging parent, some aspects are rewarding and others are burdensome. Look out for ways technology can help you care for your parent to avoid overwhelming you or another sibling. According to Today.com, True Link is a great way to take the stress and hassle out of managing mom’s money – and like many tech solutions, comes with a painless price tag ($10/month in the case of True Link) for the service and relief it can deliver. If a long-distance sibling wants to stay connected with mom from afar, set up a videochat service like Skype for virtual companionship.
Building good communication habits with your siblings is essential before your aging parents needs help. You’ll want to take these initial steps at the first sign that mom or dad could be at risk, and it will be easier with the support of your brothers and sisters.