How do we deal with a sibling who refuses to participate financially in caring for an elderly parent? My mom is in her late eighties and now needs assisted living care. She has limited income, and her assets are insufficient to cover the cost. My oldest sister and I are going to be tightening our belts in order to help out. Unfortunately, our other sister and her husband say they won't be able to join us due to lack of financial resources. Their response isn't surprising, but it doesn't jibe with reality. They both have good jobs and very healthy incomes. They're in the habit of buying expensive cars and going on extravagant annual vacations. Meanwhile, the two families who are helping out – to the tune of $1,000.00 a month – are doing so willingly but at great sacrifice. It's hard not to feel upset and resentful. What should we do?
It's difficult to know exactly how to advise you without a lot more information. We aren't acquainted with you or your sisters and have no idea what deeper underlying issues may be informing the conflict you've described. In the course of care-giving, disagreements and differences often arise between siblings and spouses as well as between parents and children. The illness or infirmity of an aging loved one tends to bring unresolved issues to the surface. You're finding this out the hard way.
Much depends upon the relational dynamics within your family system. Are you on good terms with the sister who isn't contributing to your mother's upkeep? Have you kept the lines of communication open and healthy over the years (the fact that she's invited you to join her in Europe suggests that the relationship is fairly positive)? If so, you need to start talking about this. It would probably be a good idea to bring all three sisters together for an honest conversation. Tell the younger sister what you're thinking and feeling and solicit her honest feedback. If you need help covering the cost of your mother's care, come right out and say so. If your sister is a believer, it might be worth your while to point out what the apostle Paul has to say regarding the support of aging family members (especially widows) in 1 Timothy 5:3-8. It would be best if all of you could sit down together and hash this out face to face. Only then will you be able to begin the process of cooperating as a team.
If the relationship is not conducive to this kind of healthy dialogue, you may have no choice except to resign yourself to the situation as it is. When push comes to shove, you can't control your sibling or tell her what to do, even when you think it's the right thing. You can only try to set a good example by doing what you believe to be right. If your sister would rather have new cars and exotic vacations, that's her choice. There's a sense in which she's missing out on an important life-experience in terms of accepting responsibility and honoring her mother, but there probably isn't much you can do to convince her of that. She'll have to find it out for herself.
Focus on the Family has a staff of trained family therapists available to speak with you over the phone. Call us for a free consultation. Our staff can also refer you to reputable and qualified family counselors working in your area.
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