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When Siblings Won’t Help with Aging Parents

Caregiving Basics
Two sisters sit at opposite ends of a couch as they argue.

You’ve tried asking nicely, you’ve tried nagging and pleading, but your siblings just aren’t pitching in with your aging parents’ increasing needs. When siblings won’t help with caregiving, you can get frustrated and fed up.

When you’re responsible for an ailing or aging parent’s care, the first people you expect to help you are your siblings — and it can hurt, deeply, if they don’t.

This isn’t unusual. Very few families divide caring for aging parents evenly among siblings. Those who live closer, or who don’t have children at home, often do more than other siblings. But to prevent resentment and to avoid disagreements about a parent’s care, everyone should feel that each family member is doing their best.

Overcoming Excuses When Siblings Won’t Help

When your siblings come up with excuses, look for ways to work around them. Do your siblings say they’d like to help but live too far away? See whether there are ways to involve them — especially ways that make the most of their strengths. If your brother is good with numbers, assign him the task of dealing with health insurance providers and paying bills online.

Family Dynamics and Old Habits

Sometimes family dynamics can get in the way of everyone’s best intentions. Is your sister second-guessing the money spent on your parent’s care? You may assume that she’s worried about the size of her inheritance. Instead, try to find out the reasons behind her concern. Has she questioned whether the care is necessary? Ask your parent’s doctor or home care nurse to speak with her frankly about your parent’s medical condition and the care required to manage it. If she’s upset about the cost of the care itself, ask her to research options and their costs.

Even though you are all adults, your siblings may still view you in your childhood role or may revert to their childhood position in the family. If you were the big sister or the responsible brother, your siblings might still expect you to take the lead. On the flipside, if your siblings were given too much responsibility as children, they may be thinking, “I’ve done my share already, now it’s their turn.”

Coping with Siblings’ Refusal To Help

If there’s no changing your siblings’ behavior, it’s time to do what caregivers without siblings do: find support and help elsewhere. You don’t have to go it alone. Support groups, relatives, and friends who have been caregivers can provide a place to vent or to find help and support.

Remind yourself that no situation is perfect. Families with several involved siblings often have disagreements and power struggles. Sometimes caregivers with help wish that they could just be left alone to make the decisions.

Remember there isn’t a right or wrong way of caregiving. Your style, like your relationship with your parent, will be different from your siblings’ styles. One thing is for certain, though: everyone will appreciate your effort to keep them in the loop regarding decisions about your parent’s care. If you can’t all get together for a family meeting, schedule a phone conference or Zoom session. And most importantly, recognize that despite your differences in opinion, everyone has your parent’s best interest at heart.

Stay in touch.