Working with Siblings Toward Caregiving Solutions - Part II
In part 1, we talked about five common stumbling blocks that routinely get in the way of adult children being able to care for their parents in a supportive and collaborative manner. While some of these stumbling blocks may seem insurmountable, most can be dealt with effectively if all parties are willing to work together. Here are three ways to find common ground and improve your relationship with your siblings.
1. Family meetings
Family meetings are an effective way for siblings to clarify goals, express concerns, work out conflict and set up a care plan. Although emotions may run high, it is possible to conduct a productive meeting by following a few guidelines:
- Set an agenda for the meeting ahead of time and stick to it
- Agree to rules in advance, such as not allowing anybody to dominate the meeting
- Agree on a time limit for each person's input and listen without interrupting
- Keep the discussion focused on parent care rather than on sibling issues
- Focus on the "here and now." Try not to bring up past or unrelated issues
- Share your feelings with siblings instead of making accusations
- Respect the opinions of all participants
Experts say the earlier this meeting can take place, the sooner family members can identify their goals and tasks. Once you are in the family meeting, here are some important issues you might want to address:
- Share the latest report from the physician on your loved one's condition
- Assess the primary needs of the parent receiving care (kinds of help; for how long; skilled or unskilled, etc.)
- Determine who in the family is willing to participate in ongoing care
- Discuss the types of care family members feel most capable or interested in doing
- Inquire about financial concerns (cost of care; how care needs will be paid for; etc.)
- Determine who will serve as the family's voice when talking with health care professionals
- Discuss how caregiving duties will be divided
Some families need professional help to identify and communicate their personal values about caregiving. A social worker, counselor or geriatric care manager can be of great help to family members as they try to work toward common ground and a mutual understanding of each other's concerns. And don't forget to involve your parent, if possible, in all decision-making.
2. Divide caregiving responsibilities
Many adult children will unknowingly place themselves in the role of primary caregiver by slowly taking on more and more tasks for a needy parent. Soon, a pattern is set motion in which the primary caregiver is responsible for all aspects of a parent's care. Changing this pattern can be difficult. Therefore it is best to get siblings involved early on. A primary caregiver who is trying to encourage sibling participation should remember these tips:
- Let your siblings know their help is both wanted and needed. Express your feelings honestly and directly.
- Be realistic in your expectations. Allow siblings to help in ways they are able and divide tasks according to individual abilities, current life pressures and personal freedoms. Assistance with errands, finances, legal work or other indirect care may be the best option for some family members. Even siblings that live across the country can help by making check-in phone calls or locating services.
- Establish a means of communication (regular emails, phone conferences or meetings) that keeps all siblings informed about their parent's condition and care plan.
Adult children who are unemployed, employed part time, or engaged in homemaking often are expected to shoulder the bulk of the care. If families are alert to these tendencies, they can attempt to distribute tasks on the basis of fairness and family strengths.
3. Nurture health sibling relations
It's never too late to improve your relationship with your sibling. Here are some ways to nurture that relationship and reduce the tension or emotional distance that may be present.
- Take responsibility for your part in the relational problems and try to respond differently to your sibling than you have in the past. Don't let pride or stubbornness stop you from improving your relationship.
- Work to understand your siblings and their feelings toward you. Respect the fact that they are different from you.
- Treat your siblings as adults and resist the urge to go back to old roles each of you played in former years.
- Clear up misunderstandings as quickly as possible. Be willing to apologize, forgive and work toward solutions. Holding on to resentment and misunderstandings only makes things worse.
- Set boundaries for your relationship and respect those boundaries.
- Try to be forgiving to family members who refuse to get involved in caregiving responsibilities.
Take care of yourself and move forward.
If, despite your best efforts, a sibling relationship is still contentious and results in poor or inadequate involvement in caregiving responsibilities, reach out to the larger community for help. It's important for all caregivers to build a larger support network beyond family. This could include those at work, neighbors, involvement in a local support group, an online forum and taking advantage of many local agencies that serve caregivers.
And don't give up hope that your sibling will eventually come around. As you do your part to repair the relationship you may find a new friendship growing. Many caregivers find that sharing the care with others strengthens these relationships in ways not possible through other routes. Look for opportunities to support, encourage and work cooperatively with your siblings and you may find that old rivalries and disruptive patterns fade into the background for good.