(From the beginning, my sister, my brother and I have focused on our beloved carees: first our father, then our mother. I believe that this is the key to successful caregiving.)
The conversation at Caregiving Cafe support group this past week gravitated toward siblings who don’t help with caregiving for aging or fragile parents. Unfortunately, this is a common situation that is hard to comprehend and harder to live with. Despite the difficulties that surface, however, solutions DO exist!
Unresolved issues from the past – perhaps filed away in our memory bank so securely that we may have forgotten about them – have a way to sneak up on us and make us re-live those moments of intense emotion and pain. Or perhaps the wounds never healed at all and remain fresh with hurt, anger or resentment. They say that we are the sum of our experiences, and those experiences may have steered us away from the closeness and mutual appreciation that family once provided. As we lay our course through adulthood, we create new associations with whom to travel, adjusting them as life moves us from place to place or from circumstance to circumstance. Family ties can be weakened or broken unless diligent care is taken to preserve and to strengthen them over years of change.
The initial presumption would be to count on siblings coming together to tend to parents as their health declines. Not necessarily so! For the reasons above and for many others that remain inexplicable, the sad truth is that many siblings are left caring for one or two parents on their own. Some are fortunate enough to get support from 1 or 2 brothers or sisters, with whom care is reliably coordinated. Many family caregivers, however, cannot count on this support.
So what can a family caregiver do to enlist the help and cooperation of siblings?
Several attendees talked about how they had dealt with their less-than-helpful siblings. As one of our resourceful caregivers said, she decided to spend her energy on managing the tasks at hand rather than to continue to envision a “perfect” scenario where her sibs would lend a hand – and be disappointed by the reality that they weren’t. She decided to take charge & to coordinate efforts with the sister that did help, rather than to continue to ask for assistance that never came.
[This coordinating of help is what being the Caregiving CEO is about!]
Another family caregiver got the go-ahead from her father to hire a caregiver as needed and to purchase items that helped with his care. She was lucky that another sibling spoke up for her when justification was required by the rest of their brothers and sisters. She decided that whether her sibs liked the idea or not, she was okay with that. It was their problem if they didn’t agree, not hers. I would add that if someone is not helping with caregiving and is simply criticizing without any basis, then he/she has no understanding of this particular caregiving situation; therefore, he/she has no say in the matter. I might even suggest that the caregiver ask the critic, “Would you like to do it next time and show me a better way?”
Other caregivers had siblings who paid for caregiving needs when they couldn’t be or chose to not be there in person. While the ideal is for all family members to come together for the sake of the loved one, reality can make this a challenge. A phone call or a letter, funds to pay for a sitter / equipment / supplies / respite / groceries / medications are welcome alternatives. The vision of a perfect caregiving situation can do more harm than good, especially to the family caregiver. It is best to be realistic and to accept the help that is given, instead of measuring how this help compares to an unattainable ideal.
I encourage family caregivers to ask for help from relatives, friends or neighbors without expectations. [Have your list of tasks handy for when they say yes or offer to help!]
But as a fellow caregiver pointed out, we don’t know what our relatives / friends may be dealing with that keeps them from helping. Whatever the reason, it behooves us to accept – not necessarily to like, but to accept – the fact that they won’t help and to create a new “caregiving family” who will support us in caregiving. Maybe not easy, but doable…and necessary.
Let us also forgive those whom we feel have not supported us when we needed them. The animosity or exasperation that we may feel will eat away at us over time and make it a burden with which to contend. Forgiveness allows us to move past hostility, indignation and suffering.
“…a bitter spirit, like cancer, penetrates every part of our life. Anger and resentment are symptoms that cannot be pushed away and ignored. They spill out, harming relationships and leading to risky decisions.
Withholding forgiveness may feel like we are punishing the offender. But people cannot take revenge on one another without destroying themselves.”
We have to work with what we’ve got. Let’s focus our energy on finding ways to manage our situations, using resources, creating a care team that supports us, and moving forward. Let’s not allow the frustration / anger / hurt that stems from lack of familial support to interfere with accomplishing what we need to. It is emotionally draining. Use it instead as fuel to find a path toward your goals! [If it helps…remember that what goes around, comes around!]
We, as primary family caregivers, are responsible for the care our loved ones receive. We do the best we can under the circumstances. Give yourself credit for ALL that you do & have confidence in your abilities!
Below are some articles about siblings & caregiving:
“Each caregiver has to know when to fight, and when to give up the battle and move on. There is no right or wrong time. It’s up to you.” Carol Bradley Bursack