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What Can You Do If Your Siblings Won’t Help With Aging Parents?

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Certified Care Manager, Aging Life Care Professional, and Certified Master Guardian

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As your parents age, you may need to help them with supportive tasks. These tasks may involve trips to the doctor’s office, picking up groceries, helping with home maintenance or you may need to give them your complete attention with caregiving. There may come a time when it seems like you can’t do it all and will need assistance with tasks. You may need to reach out to your siblings for help.

Jump ahead to these sections:

What happens if your siblings resist? To be honest, it’s not at all unusual but it can be a shock when you actually experience it. In fact, your initial response might be resentment or anger. 

In the end, your goal is to preserve the integrity and closeness of your sibling and parental relationships. Here’s how you can go about doing it.

Identify the Kind of Help Your Aging Parents Need

The kind of help you need will drive your approach, expectations and communication style. These are some of the caregiving tasks that may be needed:

  • Hands-on care: Help with bathing, dressing, toileting, transferring and medical tasks. 
  • Financial management: Bill paying, financial monitoring, and estate planning.
  • Healthcare advocacy: Coordinating medical care and communicating with other family members. Be sure your parents set up a healthcare proxy and advance directive if this has not already been done so and your siblings you know their preferences.
  • Supervising in-home care and other in-home services: Although there may be other companies coming in to help with your aging parents, these services may need to be monitored.

Help at the Beginning vs. Ongoing Care 

It might be easier getting your siblings involved when your parents are still fairly mobile and you’re only helping them with small tasks. These tasks might be manageable and not as time-consuming.

On the other hand, if you’re deep into everyday care for your aging parents, here are some tips to get siblings on board.

Involve and Communicate with Your Siblings

Everyone wants to feel useful, productive, and respected. Communication is one of the keys to help you preserve your relationship with your siblings. 

Communicating will help avoid misunderstandings later, but keep in mind that it may also open the door for criticism and disagreement. If your siblings refuse to help even when asked, it is still important to keep them involved. 

You can communicate by texting, group emails, Google calendar, Slack, Asana, or Trello — any of these methods can allow everyone access to appointments and tasks. The advantage of writing things down is it can prevent misunderstandings later and gives a clear history of what has happened and what needs to be done.

Consider Sibling Differences and Location

It may seem that the sibling that’s farthest away is the most critical and least involved. However, take a moment to think about how it must feel to be the sibling who has the least control. They may feel shame about not being close enough to help or feelings of being left out.

If there was a sibling rivalry in your past or other conflicts, those may be accentuated now. Some siblings have different personality styles. You may be the take-charge type, and your sibling may be more passive, or just the opposite. Thinking about these differences should guide your efforts as you communicate that you need help.

Acknowledge that some siblings don’t have the time or expertise to help. Moreover, it’s not unusual for one family member to assume most of the caregiving responsibilities. As much as you might want to distribute duties fairly, that rarely happens.

Play to Siblings’ Strengths

If you have siblings who refuse to help despite your best efforts, try playing to their strengths. People love to be recognized for their talents and skills. You might be asking those siblings for the wrong kind of help.

As a stressed-out care provider, you know the kind of help you want, but you may need to accept the help that is offered. Whatever help is given to you could lead to more cooperation later. For example, if your brother is good at finances, ask him to help with your parents’ estate or make other suggestions that recognize his talents. 

Ask your siblings if there is anything they would like to do to help. Even if you are dismayed by the answer because it isn’t nearly enough, be appreciative and accept the offer. 

Make Requests Reasonable and Achievable

Think about the possibility that your phrasing is off when you aren’t getting anywhere with your siblings. Small, achievable tasks are more likely granted than big ones.

Rather than saying, “I need lots of help with Mom right now,” try saying, “Would you mind picking up Mom’s prescriptions today?” The first request sounds overwhelming. The second request sounds very doable. 

How to Handle Criticism

You may have already had the experience of doing the best you can, only to have a sibling criticize your methods or your decisions and refuse to be of any help.  

Take a deep breath and listen without getting defensive. Try to keep emotion out of your responses if at all possible. Patiently explain why you’re making these particular decisions. Your siblings may be able to make some valuable suggestions.

It can be hard hearing that you aren’t doing a good job when you are giving caregiving everything you’ve got and more. Have confidence in yourself and know that you are doing the best you can.

Know When to Let Go

There may come a time when you’ve tried everything you can to get help from a sibling and it isn’t working out. At some point, it might be wise to just let it go. Continuing to persist in the face of resistance might cause more harm to the relationship than it’s worth.

You might try letting your siblings know that you understand their reasons for being unable to help, then move on to other ideas for support. Remember to include siblings in any other decisions you make, even if they aren’t helping, so resentment doesn’t build up.

Suggest Solutions and Alternatives

If you are at a point where you need help and aren’t getting it, think about some possible solutions to offer your aging parents and your siblings:

  • Hire in-home help through a private duty agency or medical home health paid for by insurance.
  • Respite care might be available through local area agencies on aging. Contact Eldercare Locator, a service of the Administration on Aging, to see what support services might be available to help you care for your parents.
  • If your aging parent is a veteran, the Veteran’s Administration has respite care available for qualified veterans. 

Be Grateful

Providing help for aging parents often brings out the best (and sometimes the worst) in families. You all need to work together to help each other. Expressions of gratitude will go a long way to preserve or repair any conflict you may have with your siblings. 

Try putting aside any disappointment you have when you don’t get the response you want or need. Show your appreciation and love. Possible things to say include:

  • “I understand everything you have on your plate and understand why you can’t help.”
  • “I want you to be included in what is going on with our parents, so I will keep you   informed.”
  • “Let me know if you have any ideas for extra support for our parents. I value your opinion.”

Finally, remember that family comes first, regardless of the complexity or stress of your situation. Your relationship with your siblings and parents will likely improve if you try to work together and resolve to keep the peace.