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home | Families | Elder Care and Family Conflict: When . . .

Elder Care and Family Conflict: When Siblings Won't Pull Their Weight

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Every year your brother "Clark" swoops in from out of state, brings your mother a corsage or a box of candy, and takes everyone out for dinner at the most expensive restaurant in town. Then he swoops back out again, leaving your parents in a happy glow that won't fade for weeks. Meanwhile, you're still stuck in the daily grind of making sure they're cared for and nothing falls through the cracks.

Your sister "Dora," on the other hand, drops in on your aging parents every month or so. She hovers around, getting the old folks agitated and upset, and criticizes everything from what's planted in the garden to the way you manage their medicines. When she leaves it takes days for your parents and your blood pressure to settle down.

Clark is the golden boy who can do no wrong (in your parent's eyes, at least). Dora is the burr that's been under everyone's saddles as long as you can remember, but neither parent will ever tell her to either butt out or offer something useful.

And who are you? If you're reading this, you're probably the dutiful sun or daughter who everyone knows will take care of the day to day stuff so they don't have to worry about it. Why? Because you always have, and if you don't, who will?

This doesn't mean you aren't steamed about it. Maybe you joined a support group to get advice about how to get your siblings to help out. You've read everything you can find about "forging family relationships." All your "family meetings" and attempts to delegate have come to naught. You're still going to bed with a migraine, talking to yourself (and not using the nicest vocabulary, either), and trying to find a way to get your siblings to change.

As much as you hope and scheme, barring divine intervention the odds of them stepping in and taking on some useful responsibility for your aging parents' needs are probably nil. By the time everyone has reached adulthood their family roles and personality types are set. The favorite will always be the favorite. The negative criticizer will only get more accomplished at swipes, jabs and backhanded compliments. You, the always conscientious one, will continue to take up the reins and forge ahead.

How we approach this reality is where our true power lies.

First, we can choose to put down the crushing burden of trying to change them. Like Sisyphus pushing that boulder up the mountain, there will never be an end to the impossible. Choose to put the boulder down and walk around it.

Second, step back and try to make a realistic, no-rose-colored-glasses assessment of what your siblings will and won't do. If the answer you come up with is "nothing," then "nothing" it is. Let it go. All the begging, yelling, negotiating and manipulating in the world won't change them now. You will never get them to carry their share of the load. Move on and don't look back.

Third, go to work developing a real support system that you can rely on to help take the load off your shoulders. The most important thing any caregiver can do is be relentless about developing a good, supportive care team. It will take time and effort, and you will sometimes hit what look like brick walls. There is always a way around or over. Keep calling and keep looking. Good people and good organizations are out there. Every time you talk to someone new, ask, "Who or what else should I know about?"

If you are lucky enough to have a strong family with members who work together toward a common goal, thank your lucky stars and tell them how much you appreciate them. If you're on your own, get thee to the telephone and start looking for the support and resources you need to make caring for aging parents do-able without the migraine.


·  When Resentment Builds Up
·  Mediation: Resolving Elder Care Conflicts Without a Battle
·  Sibling Conflict: When Brothers & Sisters Argue About Senior Care
·  Caring For a Difficult, Unpleasant Parent
·  Family Meeting Guide
·  The Caregiver's Bill of Rights
·  We Need To Talk: Having A Family Meeting