5 Ways to Work Better Together with Siblings

When caring for an aging parent, your siblings can be a source of support — and a source of stress.

siblings in counselling together trying to work better together

When caring for an aging parent, your siblings can be a source of support — and a source of stress.

By taking steps to foster positive communication and support one another as much as possible, the challenging role of providing care for elderly parents can be a fulfilling, rewarding experience, which ultimately can bring siblings closer together.

Here are five ways you can work better together with your siblings:

1. Meet Them Where They Are

Oftentimes, your siblings’ intentions are good, but their time, resources, and skills are limited. Try to accept your siblings as they really are, not who you wish they were. Keep your own expectations and expressions of “should” in check. Instead, strive to accept and work with your siblings’ personalities and abilities.

“We all have different strengths,” says Robyn Grant, director of public policy and advocacy at National Consumer Voice for Long-Term Care, which advocates for quality care and services in any long-term care setting. “Try to recognize that and allow people to contribute in different ways.”

2. Be Compassionate

This is a hard time for everyone. Sometimes fear, pain, or guilt might cause you and your siblings to act out of emotional needs.

Shelley Phoenix, a Sales Specialist for Highgate Senior Living, says she sometimes hears long-distance siblings criticizing the care the in-town sibling is providing — Why aren’t you doing this? Don’t do it like that. — even when they do not have a real concern.

“It’s usually guilt,” she says.

You do not have to excuse negative behavior, but try to be compassionate.

3. Be Concrete and Specific

If you feel you are carrying too much of the burden, it is possible that your siblings do not even know. Explain how you feel in a matter-of-fact, non-confrontational way.

“One thing you could do is take notes about the level of assistance you’re providing so your siblings who aren’t in town can get a sense of the scope of the job,” Grant suggests.

4. Divide Tasks Fairly

There are not many families where the caregiving responsibilities are spread equally among the siblings, but they can be divided fairly.

“Have the out-of-town siblings come visit sometime outside the holiday time period,” Grant says. “Then they can take some steps in the in-town sibling’s shoes to see what she or he is experiencing and what it’s like.”

5. Get Help from the Pros

If you hit trouble spots, reach out to a mediator, social worker, or geriatric care manager.

“When tensions are high, it’s best to have a neutral party that can say, ‘You’re out of line’ or ‘That isn’t what she’s saying,’” says LaTresh Walker, Healthcare Director at Highgate at Temecula.

To prevent conflicts, Walker recommends returning to the question: What is best for Mom or Dad?

“It’s so important for the family to be on the same page,” she says. “Otherwise, the elder doesn’t get the care they need. It’s not about the siblings. Put your differences aside. Stop and look and see what’s best for Mom or Dad.”

No matter how complex your sibling dynamics may be, it is possible to establish consensus. For a guide to getting everyone on the same page, download How to Manage Challenging Family Dynamics When Making Long-Term Care Decisions.

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