Negotiating Sibling Caregiving Relationships: Who Should Care For Mom?

Senior with family members

A parent in need can bring a whole family together. But unfortunately, many families end up feeling divided by disagreements about how to care for an aging parent. Who is the best person to take care of Mom? How can a long-distance sibling help out? When, if at all, is the right time to consider moving her to a care facility?

Making decisions about living arrangements, finances and end-of-life wishes is undoubtedly stressful, but it doesn’t have to drive your family apart. Here are some tips for coming together as a family to take care of the ones you love most.

Call a Family Meeting

The first step in taking care of your parent is working together. Set up a time and place to meet as a family to discuss your parent’s needs. Make this a formal family meeting that includes everyone, so that each sibling gets a chance to offer help and opinions. Choose a place that is comfortable and will allow you to spread out important legal and financial documents. Bring a laptop or notebook to take notes.

If you feel it will be a productive, loving environment, you might also consider inviting your parent. On the other hand, if you’re expecting tension among family members, resistance from your parent, or if your parent has a cognitive disease such as Alzheimer’s or dementia, then attending the meeting may be too stressful or confusing for them. One option is to have your parent attend only part of the meeting. That way, you can hear their opinions and wishes and build a trusting relationship. Including your loved one early in the planning process can help you honor their wishes and prepare for making other tough decisions down the road.

Communicating Clearly & Calmly

It’s quite possible that strong emotions, family competition or denial may come up during the meeting. Make it a rule to communicate calmly and remember that even if you have different opinions, you all have one thing in common: making your parent as comfortable, safe and happy as possible. If you anticipate tension or arguing at the family meeting, consider having a mediator, social worker or geriatric care manager help you overcome family roadblocks to making a care plan.

Be Understanding & Realistic

One of the most important goals from your meeting is to divide up caregiving duties. As you begin discussing your roles as caregivers, avoid making assumptions. For example, don’t assume that simply because your brother is the oldest sibling or because your sister lives alone, that they will be the best caregivers.

Being a caregiver, especially a live-in caregiver, is a 24/7 job that not everyone is suited for or able to do. It requires a great deal of time, patience, responsibility and sacrifice. It may even mean giving up hours at work or turning down a promotion to dedicate more time to caring for your parent. While caregiving can be very rewarding, it is also very challenging.

For that reason, if you are considering having your parent move in with a family member, try to be realistic about their caregiving capabilities. It’s important that they have the time, space and patience to be a 24-hour caregiver for your parent. Consider what sacrifices he or she will need to make to be a caregiver, emotional and financial. Some families create a personal care agreement with the primary caregiver, a contract in which family members agree to chip in finances for care needs or even supplement the caregiver’s income if they have to reduce their work hours in exchange for caregiving. If you’re unsure of who will be the best fit for primary caregiver, you may even try taking turns acting as caregiver for a day to get a sense of what it’s like.

Divide Caregiving Tasks

Once it’s decided who your parent should live with, come up with a plan for how each person can help the primary caregiver. Remember that all help does not have to be financial — if a family member does not have the financial means to help with costs, there are other tasks they can help with. They may also be able to provide respite care as needed, do chores around the house, go grocery shopping or provide transportation to doctors’ visits and recreational activities. 

Even a long-distance sibling can help with caregiving tasks. For example, they can be the dedicated point person for managing books and sorting through Medicare and Medicaid paperwork. They can also provide company and care with regular phone calls or Skype sessions, or offer respite care when they’re in town.

Make sure to clearly define each family member’s role and responsibilities. After a plan is in place, make sure that everyone involved has the necessary legal paperwork in order to carry out tasks. Consider who will need to hold the power of attorney or obtain permission to speak to your parent’s physician.   

Last but not least, it’s important to make a plan for when (or if) your parent should live in a care facility. Are there certain milestones or symptoms that will let you know when the time is right? How will your family finance the move? Which care facility is the best fit for your parent, and whose job is it to research and select the best care home possible? While it may seem in the distant future, it’s important to start planning as early as possible so that, if the time does come, the moving process will be smoother.

When it comes to taking care of an aging parent, every family has a unique history and set of challenges to overcome. But with open communication, calm attitudes and a clearly defined caregiving plan, you can come together to make your parents’ later years truly golden.

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