Caring for aging parents is a profound responsibility that often brings families together. However, it can also unearth complexities in sibling-to-sibling relationships as well as sibling-to-parent relationships, testing bonds and challenging dynamics. When multiple siblings are involved in caregiving, navigating responsibilities, disagreements, and varying perspectives might seem daunting. Here are five effective ways to collaborate with siblings to ensure the best care for aging parents while maintaining familial harmony.
Open, Honest, and Regular Communication: If you see something, say something.
In this age of multiple devices and apps, getting siblings together for a regular group chat, phone or video call is a must. It might vary from weekly to monthly, but building this frequent line of communication allows everyone to discuss parents’ needs, any observations or red flags after calls or visits, concerns about individual capacities, and preferences. A call could be 5 minutes or an hour depending on what is happening, but open and frequent dialogue helps to ensure that everyone is on the same page. If you see that Mom is tripping over her feet or slowing down when you walk alongside her, tell your siblings what you observe. They might have seen it too but chalked it up to a bad day or maybe they knew that Mom forgot her meds that day. If everyone is on Team Mom and defensiveness is left at the door, conversations will be more collaborative and decisions are made in the best interests of the parents.
Establishing Roles and Responsibilities: A Shared Effort
Caring for aging parents often involves a multitude of tasks, from managing finances and medical appointments to providing personal care and emotional support. Siblings should work together to establish clear roles and responsibilities, so no one sibling feels like they are having to do it all. Keep in mind each sibling’s abilities and circumstances, but also their relationship with Mom or Dad. Not everyone can take off work to accompany Mom to her doctor’s appointments, but taking turns might be more feasible. The one who attends can establish a video call at the appointment so all can participate. Put someone in charge of making sure bills get paid and taxes are submitted. Create a schedule for who visits, but be respectful of siblings whose relationship with Mom and Dad might not be as close as yours. They can be in charge of something else, such as making sure bills get paid and taxes are done. This division of labor helps to prevent burnout and resentment, fostering a sense of shared responsibility and collaboration.
Honoring Individual Preferences: Mom and Dad as Decision-Makers
Siblings may have different perspectives on how to care for their aging parents, influenced by their individual experiences and relationships with their parents. Trying to find common ground can sometimes be difficult, especially when safety is involved. It is also important to remember that parents are adults and have the right to make decisions about their care, even if you believe they are wrong. They might not want to downsize or move closer to their grandchildren, even if that means that siblings become long-distance caregivers. Open-mindedness and empathy are crucial in navigating these discussions, ensuring that decisions are made with consideration for the parents’ preferences and well-being. If there is dementia or increasing physical impairment involved, then safety becomes priority, and strategy sessions about who can approach the conversation to achieve the safest outcome can be done on the weekly call.
Seeking External Support: Embracing Professional Help
As the needs of aging parents increase, siblings may find it beneficial to seek external support from professionals. This could include hiring home care aides, arranging for transportation services, or consulting with geriatric care managers, also known as Aging Life Care Managers. These third-party professionals can also help siblings navigate differing views on the best way to move forward with Mom or Dad’s care. Additionally, working with an elder care attorney can help ensure Mom and Dad are protected if a crisis occurs and they can’t make decisions for themselves. Getting financial and healthcare powers of attorney in order, and making sure everyone has copies of advance directives can be much easier if a third party is asking for the information. Most of these supports are private pay, but professional assistance can provide much-needed respite for siblings and ensure that parents receive the best possible care.
Remembering the Shared Journey: Cherishing Moments and Bonds
Caring for aging parents is not just about providing practical assistance; it is also an opportunity to cherish the time spent together. If possible, siblings should make time for shared activities, conversations, and reminiscing, creating lasting memories with Mom and Dad that will strengthen their relationship. Not only will siblings appreciate these times once parents are gone, but it will also help create the trust that you have their best interest at heart and create opportunities to have the conversations about care needs.
Caring for our aging parents is an opportunity to deepen sibling relationships and create lasting memories. By practicing open communication, establishing clear roles, respecting individual preferences, seeking external support, and cherishing shared moments, siblings will be well positioned to help parents have the highest quality of life possible for as long as possible.