7 Ways to Avoid Sibling Tensions While Caring for a Parent

Effective communication is key to maintaining family relationships and achieving care-giving success.

There are few events in life that stir up old, seemingly forgotten sibling tensions and rivalry like caring for elderly parents. The frustration can escalate when family members are separated geographically. As in many life situations, communication and sympathy on both sides is key to achieving understanding — and maybe even harmony.

A growing problem
According to a February 2010 Time magazine article, a recent survey by the AARP and National Alliance for Caregiving showed that of the estimated 43.5 million U.S. adults caring for an older relative or friend, 70 percent said although they received help from an unpaid caregiver in the past year, only 10 percent said the burden was shouldered equally.

In addition to the likelihood of disproportionate duties, an elderly parent may “put on a show” for out-of-town sons or daughters, out of a desire to not burden them and to more fully enjoy their time together. This can lead to problems such as the remote sibling not comprehending how much caregiving the parent needs, and the local sibling feeling resentful and angry.

Communicate to resolve
With a little initiative, siblings can keep the lines of communication open, which is the first step in avoiding a negative situation that can have disastrous effects on a family. Here are some ideas to get started:
  • Hold family meetings when everyone can participate. Ask your parent and siblings what their needs are and if they’re being met. Be honest and realistic about what you can handle, whether it’s hands-on caregiving or financial assistance. Document care plans and financial arrangements, but keep an open mind that these may change over time.
  • Do not make unrealistic promises. As much as you’d like to assure your parent she will never have to live in a nursing home, health can deteriorate to a point where you can’t provide care. It’s better to stay realistic than feel enormous guilt later.
  • Work together to develop a schedule. In addition to duties of the primary caregiver and weekly or twice-weekly visits and help from siblings, choose times when those who live farther away can spend a vacation helping out.
  • Offer emotional support. Whether you’re the primary caregiver who needs to vent to others, or a secondary caregiver who feels out of the loop, it is helpful to know you’re all in this together. Use humor whenever possible to lighten the situation.
  • Learn what is involved in caring for your parent if you are a geographically separated sibling. Someone who’s never had to renovate a home to improve mobility or purchase and learn to use incontinence products may have a hard time understanding how much work it can be. Offer sympathy and support, and try not to second-guess decisions.
  • Keep others informed of your parent’s health if you are the local sibling, without endlessly describing how much work you put into his care or trying to incite guilt in your siblings.
  • Seek outside help. If one side is feeling anger and resentment, and another guilt and defensiveness, and open communication doesn’t resolve it, seek the help of a clergy or therapist.
About The CareGiver Partnership. The CareGiver Partnership is a national direct to consumer retailer and caregiver resource providing support, convenience and old-fashioned customer service to those caring for a loved one. The company’s website provides the largest online library of resources on subjects which are most important to caregivers and offers more than 3000 homecare products. Product specialists answer the phone within three rings and assist in helping customers choose just the right product. The company also offers its patent-pending automatically scheduled delivery service, Never Run OutSM which ships supplies automatically based on need.


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