Center for a Secure Retirement
How to Navigate Sibling Relationships When Caring for an Aging Parent

How to Navigate Sibling Relationships When Caring for an Aging Parent

Whether you're approaching retirement or already retired, caring for an aging parent can throw off retirement plans and perhaps even cause you to dip into savings to help pay for your parent's care. Meanwhile, sibling relationships in retirement can become more stressful and emotionally charged when you're caring for an aging parent.

This stage in life can also be rewarding, as it can lead to you and your siblings developing better coping and communication skills in the course of caring for a parent who needs your help. To help you do so, here are six tips for working together with siblings while caregiving for an aging parent.

1. Don't Get Caught Up in Sibling Rivalry

Was your older brother a bully when you were kids? Maybe your sister seemed like Mom's favorite, or another sibling was resentful toward you. Even if you all made peace with those conflicts long ago, the flurry of emotions brought up by caregiving — sadness, anger and sometimes powerlessness — can stir up old sibling rivalries.

Talk honestly with your siblings about how you can avoid triggering negative emotions with each other while you're caring for an aging parent. Try not to become defensive, and listen with an open mind so you can work better as a caregiving team.

2. Accept What Each Sibling Contributes

Do you assume that each of you should pitch in equally on caregiving responsibilities? Unfortunately, that expectation usually leads to disappointment, as each of you will have other responsibilities that demand your time, and some siblings may live far away. Appreciate the sister who isn't available to run Mom or Dad to appointments but contributes financially to help pay for care, or the brother who isn't a hands-on caregiver but pays your parent's monthly bills online.

3. Tread Carefully With Advice

If one sibling shoulders most of the caregiving duties, be careful about doling out advice. For example, you may want your sister to hire a different home health aide or tidy up the house more often, but if you're unable to contribute as much as that sibling, and your parent is safe and receiving proper care, you may want to keep these thoughts to yourself to avoid unnecessary conflict.

4. Understand That Not All Caregiving Is Hands-on

If you spend hours each week driving your parents to appointments and helping them with bathing, dressing, cooking and housekeeping, it can be easy to resent a sibling who isn't as much of a hands-on caregiver. If you're a sibling who lives far away, you may feel as if there's not much you can do to help, but that doesn't have to be the case.

If your sister is Dad's primary caregiver and you live in another state, you could call her regularly to offer moral support. Your super-organized brother in another city might be the perfect person to apply for veteran's benefits that could help pay for home health care or assisted living. Each of you should identify your caregiving strengths and contribute accordingly.

5. Have Compassion for Your Siblings

You may disagree with your sister's caregiving decisions or become irritated when your brother texts cryptic updates instead of calling with details, but remember that caring for an aging parent is a learn-as-you-go experience where everyone is constantly trying to figure out how to proceed. It's likely that all of you are working to manage sadness, frustration and other emotions tied to your parent's situation, so do your best to be kind to one another, and remember that caregiving is difficult for everyone involved.

6. Don't Forget to Say Thank You

It can be easy to get so wrapped up in caregiving that you forget to thank your siblings for all they're doing to help. If you're wondering how you can show appreciation, consider offering to sit with Mom or Dad so your brother can take time off, or paying for a massage for your sister who drives Mom to appointments. Give your siblings a quick call to thank them when they pitch in to help.

With a little compassion and a lot of patience, you and your siblings can serve as an effective caregiving team for your parent — and perhaps even strengthen your bonds with each other in the process.

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