You do not have to be best friends with your siblings to get the support you need as your care for your aging parents. However, if you have a loyal relationship with your siblings that is based on your common family history, you might be able to win more support from your brother(s) and/or sister(s) as your parents get older.
The Importance of Adult Sibling Relationships
Right now, you might be frustrated that your brother does not offer to help drive your mom to her doctor appointments. Perhaps you are hurt that all your sister can seem to do is criticize the decisions you are making as you care for your dad.
Instead of meditating on the relationship you have with your siblings now, experts suggest thinking about what type of relationship you are going to want with your siblings when you are your parents’ age.
Think about it: It is normal for social circles to shrink with age. Eventually, friends die or move away and it becomes more challenging to drive and get around easily. This can lead to a lack of companionship, which is associated with depression and heart problems in older adults.
“Viewing your siblings as close friends and having some family loyalty can come in handy as you get older and your social circle shrinks,” writes Holly Tiret, a Nutrition and Social and Emotional Educator. “Many older adults find sibling relationships more satisfying and reliable in their lives. Some look at sibling relationships as an hourglass effect. Very close in the early years, slim to none in the teen to young adult years, then growing closer as the years go by.”
How to Play the Long Game
Focusing on the long game is hard when you are burned out, but it can also help you get the support you need today. Here are three tips for winning more support from your siblings when caregiving:
1. Start a Group Text
Effective communication is key when it comes to caregiving. If you feel you are carrying too much of the burden, it is possible that your siblings do not even know. Before you call a family meeting, consider starting a simple group chat that includes all your siblings.
Having a place where you maintain regular contact will not only allow you to keep your siblings in the loop with your caregiving roles and responsibilities so they get a sense of the scope of the job. It will also allow you to keep one another updated on the little daily things, such as your niece’s piano recital.
Do not make distance an excuse to be emotionally distant from your sibling. Make time for occasional phone calls to stay abreast of what is happening in one another’s lives, too.
2. Be Aware of How You Ask for Help
Caregiving is stressful. It is normal if some days you feel anger and frustration, however that is not the time to pick up the phone to ask (or, more likely, demand) help from your siblings. It is going to come through your voice, and you may hear defensiveness and anger coming back at you.
Likewise, guilt-tripping your siblings into helping out is likely only going to lead to more tension and resentment. Steer clear of the cycle of anger and guilt. Instead, think about what you really need, and ask for it clearly and effectively.
3. Acknowledge One Another’s Strengths
Your brother might have a lot of flaws, but there has to be at least one thing you can think of that he does well. Maybe he does not do a good job of calling your mom as often as she would like, but he has been really successful in his role as a financial adviser at work.
Instead of asking your brother to take on the companion role for your mom — a role his personality is not suited for — acknowledge his strengths. You could think about it as stroking his ego, but what you are really doing is asking him to apply his financial acumen to the caregiving situation.
Recognize that each person in your family — including you — has strengths and weaknesses and ask each of your siblings to help with the tasks that they are best suited to do.
No matter what type of relationship you have with your sibling, it is possible to work together for the sake of your parents. For a guide to getting everyone on the same page, download How to Manage Challenging Family Dynamics When Making Long-Term Care Decisions.