Aging Loved Ones: Lack of Sibling Support

How can I get my brothers and sisters to be more involved in caring for our elderly mother? I'm the oldest, and my siblings seem to have decided that I should do most of the work. I don't mind being the primary caregiver, but the lack of support is frustrating. If I don't do something or at least direct it, it doesn't get done. How should I handle this?

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In the course of care-giving, disagreements and differences sometimes arise between siblings and spouses as well as between parents and children. The illness of an aging loved one tends to bring unresolved issues to the surface. You’re finding this out the hard way.

It’s possible that your siblings aren’t volunteering to help because they don’t want to infringe on your role as primary care-giver. There’s also a chance that they don’t like the idea of being told what to do. Sometimes family members get into quarrels over a parent’s finances or question a decision about medical treatment. Secondary or long-distance care-givers may be struggling with a wide range of mixed emotions. These often include feelings of guilt over their minimal involvement, relief that you’re doing the bulk of the work, resentment of the major role you’re playing, or disagreement with decisions you’ve made. There may be skeletons in the family closet that keep you from working together as a group. You’re in the best position to assess the family dynamics that may be contributing to the problem.

We can’t offer you any easy answers, but we can tell you this much: if you want things to change, you’re going to have to initiate some frank conversations with your siblings. Tell them what you’re feeling and solicit their honest feedback. If you need their help, come right out and say so. It would be best if all of you could sit down together and discuss the situation face to face. Only then will you be able to begin the process of cooperating as a team.

As you begin to move in this direction, keep in mind the following thoughts. First, be aware of the adverse effects of past hurts and dark family secrets. Hidden wounds tend to fester and persist. Healing takes place as we expose them to the light. Your ability to work with your siblings in providing quality care for your mother will be hindered if you can’t let go of pain and dysfunction. So get things out in the open and make a joint decision to process your past together in a healthy way.

Second, once you’ve got a handle on the underlying issues, make a serious effort to talk them out openly and honestly. Speak the truth in love. Be aware that some of your siblings may send mixed messages, further bury their resentments, or deny the past. If you are the one who wants to clear the air, it can be frustrating to meet a brick wall of silence from your family members. When this happens, try to empathize with them. Perhaps the timing is not right. One day, the topic may simply open up and the tension will be released. In the meantime, be patient with yourself and your siblings, and take your needs and concerns to the Lord in prayer.

Third, offer sincere forgiveness where it’s needed. Instead of blaming yourself or your siblings for your frustrations, aim for deeper understanding and acceptance. Ask God to teach you how to forgive with the compassion of Christ. Once you’ve cleared the air, you’ll be in a better position to work out the practical details of sharing responsibility for your mother’s care.

If you’d like to discuss the specifics of your family situation with a member of our staff, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.

 

Resources
If a title is currently unavailable through Focus on the Family, we encourage you to use another retailer.

Caring for Your Aging Loved Ones

Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones

The Peacemaker: A Biblical Guide to Resolving Personal Conflict

Referrals
National Association of Area Agencies on Aging

Caregiver Action Network

Articles

Conflict Resolution

Excerpted from The Complete Guide to Caring for Aging Loved Ones, a Focus on the Family book published by Tyndale House Publishers. Copyright © 2002, Focus on the Family.

This information has been approved by the Physicians Resource Council of Focus on the Family.

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