One of the difficult things about being a caregiver is coordinating care for a parent when you have siblings. Certainly, it can be a blessing to have other family members who can pitch in and help. However, the reality is that siblings don’t always work together to provide care for a parent.
A survey by Carefull found that among financial caregivers who have siblings, less than half work with their siblings to help their parents with their finances. And one of the biggest sources of stress among those caregivers is the feeling that their siblings aren’t doing their share of the work or providing an equal amount of financial support.
In fact, it’s common to see tension among siblings about caregiving, says Judy Burkle, a licensed clinical social worker who has been helping families coordinate care for aging parents for 21 years. But that doesn’t mean that arguments are unavoidable. Here’s how to communicate better with your siblings to prevent fights about your parents’ care.
Get on the same page with your siblings
It’s easy for fights to break out if you’re the one managing your parents’ finances or overseeing their day-to-day care, but your sister from California seems to think she knows what is best for Mom and Dad even though she’s not there to see what really is going on. (Maybe you don't actually have a sister from California, but the phrase "daughter from California" is used by medical professionals to describe distant relatives who show up as a family member is ailing or dying and challenge the care the family member is receiving.) The key to avoid ending up in a situation like this is to have conversations early on with your siblings so all of you can get on the same page, Burkle says.
Call a family meeting to make it clear that you and your siblings need to agree that the common goal is to ensure that your parents have good care. You might even need to get an unbiased third party involved. For example, if you have a parent who needs care because of a chronic health condition, Burkle recommends setting up a time for you and your siblings to meet with your parent’s doctor to get a better understanding of your parent’s condition and how it will progress.
Call a family meeting to make it clear that you and your siblings need to agree that the common goal is to ensure that your parents have good care.
Make a list of questions to ask before the meeting so you don’t forget to address all of your concerns. If your siblings live in other cities, ask the doctor if you can set up a conference call or video call with them. You also could reach out to a counselor or aging life care professional (also called a geriatric care manager) to help facilitate a meeting.
Having a meeting will help all siblings understand what really is going on with the parent who needs care. You can agree on how to best provide care and what roles each of you is willing to play. Hopefully, this will lead to less fighting down the road if expectations are established from the get-go.
Work toward acceptance of your role
If it’s clear from your family conversation that you will have to assume the role of primary caregiver (or you’re already in this role), you might be feeling resentful. “Usually, the person who is primary caregiver is upset about the role,” Burkle says. That can be understandable because it can feel unfair that you have to do more than your siblings.
But don’t let anger and frustration consume you. “Work toward acceptance that this is the way it’s going to be,” Burkle says. “It is what it is.”
Assess your parents’ financial situation
Burkle says that often when she meets with a family for the first time, she begins the conversation by talking about money. That’s because it’s so important for family members to have a good handle of what’s going on with their loved ones’ finances.
You and your siblings need to be aware of the details of your parents’ finances if you have to help manage those finances. Plus, you need to know what resources your parents have to pay for any care they might need.
Ideally, you and your siblings should have money talks with your parents before an emergency strikes. Then when you do have to get involved with your parents’ finances and care, you’ll have a plan you can fall back on – which, hopefully, will help prevent fights among you and your siblings because you won’t be sorting out who does what and pays for what in a moment of crisis. You also can avoid fights by having a system for coordinating your parents’ daily money matters and keeping track of who is spending what to help support your parents. Tools such as Carefull can be used to help you create that system.
Your siblings might assume that you don’t need help caring for your parents – that is, unless you ask.
Also, make sure that your parents have named a power of attorney to make legal and financial decisions for them if they become unable to themselves. This document needs to be drafted and signed while they still are mentally competent. If you expect to be the primary caregiver, make sure your parents name you their power of attorney. It can be a source of stress and arguments if you’re having to help a parent with money tasks but another sibling is the power of attorney with the legal right to make financial transactions.
Keep all siblings in the loop
If you’re the one providing hands-on care for your parents, keep your siblings updated on what you’re doing and your parents’ condition. That can help them feel connected rather than isolated and possibly resentful about the decisions you’re making. Plus, being more aware of what’s going on will make it easier for them if they start taking a more active role in your parents’ care.
It’s especially important to be transparent about money. You don’t want your siblings to think you’re hiding anything from them or mismanaging your parents’ finances.
Ask for help
Your siblings might assume that you don’t need help caring for your parents – that is, unless you ask. You can increase your chances of getting the help you need by asking in the right way.
For starters, Burkle recommends using “I” messages, such as “feel overwhelmed,” rather than telling your siblings, “You need to do …” She says your siblings will be more receptive to your requests if they don’t feel like you’re attacking their lack of involvement.
Then be specific about the help you need. For example, you might ask your sibling to make calls to find someone to maintain your parents’ lawn. If you need to hire a caregiver, you could ask your sibling to make a list of caregiving agencies in the area, interview providers and provide you with the top two choices.
If your siblings aren’t willing to help, create a network of support for yourself, Burkle says. Take advantage of prescription drug or grocery delivery services so you don’t have to run all of your parents’ errands. See if no- or low-cost respite care is available to provide you with a temporary break from your caregiving duties. Hire a daily money manager to oversee your parents’ finances. Or if your parents have limited income and assets, see if they qualify for Medicaid to pay for care in their home or in a nursing home.
Don’t feel guilty about asking for help if you need it. You don’t have to do everything on your own.