Being the primary caregiver to your aging parent can be both a privilege and a burden. While it is an opportunity to care for them at the end of life the way they cared for you, it is also a difficult role reversal. Suddenly, you are the voice of reason, giving direction and expecting obedience. One thing that could make this situation more difficult is caregiver sibling resentment.
You may find yourself thinking you are not an only child, but for some reason, you are the only one shuttling mom to doctor visits and trying to keep her medication straight. Your siblings are not there to answer the phone when your aging father calls from the emergency room because he had a slight accident that was completely avoidable had he taken the precautions you offered. You are beginning to resent the off-the-cuff solutions being lobbed at you by distant siblings who have no idea what your day-to-day caregiver struggles are like.
Here are some tactics that can improve your family relationships and give you a more positive outlook on your parents’ aging.
1. Acknowledge the Problem
It’s easy to get caught up in the “why me?” mindset when you have siblings unwilling or unable to help with parents. You need to understand that you are not the only one dealing with uncomfortable emotions at this time. Your siblings are probably experiencing the same anxiety and helplessness you are; they are just expressing it differently. You all love your elderly parent and find it difficult to watch the aging process. You are struggling to come to terms with the eventual end of life.
Understanding why you feel resentment toward your siblings can help relieve some of your tension. Recognizing that you are not alone in this struggle should help, too. Give yourself some grace in understanding that you are in a difficult situation, but you are handling it.
2. Ask for Help
It sounds simple, but asking for help in your situation can be extremely difficult. You want to protect your parent’s privacy and show them that you are handling everything. Caregivers upset with siblings are reluctant to admit they need help.
But you do need help, so ask. Caregiving to an elderly parent is extremely draining both physically and emotionally. No one can handle it alone. When someone offers you help, even just to cook a meal or sit with your parent for an hour while you shower, accept the help. Never turn down an offer of help, even if you think you don’t need it.
Asking for help can be a different story than just accepting help. Many of us are proud and independent and not in the habit of asking for what we need. Requests for help are more successful when they are specific. Ask one of your siblings to stay with your parent overnight on a specific day and time. Ask your sister to make your parent’s favorite dish on Sunday. Ask your brother to pick up prescriptions at the pharmacy on his way home from work. Once you get in the habit of asking for help, and your requests are met, it will become easier. When your siblings know exactly what kind of help you need, they will be more likely to give it to you.
3. Make a Plan
Reach out to your siblings for their input in a plan for providing care moving forward. Call a family meeting to discuss your parent’s immediate needs and those you can predict coming up in the short term. Give your siblings a chance to offer any help they can and allow them to be part of the decision-making process.
Maybe your sister cannot quit her job and move her family back home. She may, however, be able to call the doctors and update the family on a regular basis. Even if your brother cannot afford to visit frequently, he could set up a standing video chat with your parent to help maintain positive mental health.
Letting everyone be part of the care plan will help ease tensions among your family members and give everyone a chance to feel useful.
4. Build a Support System
Another way you can make caregiving easier is by finding a support system that really works for you. Family is always a great resource, but if you are not feeling supported, it is okay to look elsewhere. Start by joining a caregiver support group either online or in your community. They can be a great resource for finding other help or resources you need.
Don’t overlook adult day programs and respite care. Check with your local Agency on Aging for recommendations. You may not become a regular client of these programs but having the information could be good if your situation quickly changes. Through programs for the elderly, you will also meet other caregivers who might become part of your support system.
When you feel comfortable, you might ask your siblings to join your support system. Remember to ask for what you need specifically and accept the help you are offered. Caregiver sibling resentment will certainly fade when your siblings are able to show up to support you.
5. Take Care of Yourself
It’s easy to ignore your own needs when you are taking care of someone else. Keep in mind that if you become ill or burned out, you will not be useful to anyone else. Guilt can play a big role in your caregiver resentment, too. You feel guilty because you cannot do it all. It feels better to give up on yourself than to let your elderly parent down.
The only thing you really need to give up on is the guilt. Give up the guilt that is creating harmful stress — let it go. Keep up with your own health and well-being. Take time to eat properly, exercise regularly and get enough sleep. Adding a few minutes of yoga or meditation to your day would be helpful, too.
6. Communicate Openly
Sometimes talking is the last thing you want to do when you are feeling caregiver sibling resentment, but it is often the best solution. Calmly explaining the situation from your perspective and listening to your siblings’ side can help clear the air. Sibling resentment can grow out of lack of communication. If you don’t explain how you feel, no one will know. Resentful siblings don’t always listen well, either.
When it comes time to make a decision about long-term care, open communication between you and your family is essential. At this stage, conversations with family members can get tense, so you’ll want to approach them gently. Moving parents into long-term care can be a deeply emotional issue. Gather the facts and try to stick to them as you discuss the options with your siblings.
Eldercare sibling tensions are not unusual, but they can be resolved. Taking care of your aging parent, with the support of your siblings, can be a rewarding experience. Despite the difficulties, it is a chance to nurture your loved one and explore the final stages of aging with them. This experience can bring you closer together with your siblings, as well.
Sometimes, taking a break from caregiving to go on a vacation or just to change up your routine can help restore you and provide a sense of balance in your life. Elmcroft Respite Care offers short-term stay options in our communities for seniors who need assisted, personal or memory care on a temporary basis. Explore options near you or contact us for more information.