By Jennifer Gibbons, LCSW, Adult & Senior Care Advisor
I’m not sure how my brother and I will work together to care for our aging parents. Like many siblings, we don’t always get along and we’re more different than alike. Growing up, I was often concerned about our grandmother and her wellbeing, while my brother thought it was best to let our grandmother determine her own care needs. We both live a fair distance from our parents now and are members of the sandwich generation—balancing care for children along with aging parents. But there is that vexing question—how are we going to work together if our parents need help one day?
As a social worker, I’ve enjoyed working with many families over the years. Each approach care for their aging loved ones differently. Some struggle to determine who is going to do what, while others disagree about the type of care Mom or Dad need. But even the most challenging family dynamics can be helped by employing a few key strategies.
- Meet Together- Have your siblings gather around the same table, hold a conference call or video chat so everyone is involved and hears the same conversation. Determine how to approach your parents and who is best suited to do this. Should one sibling take on the role or should it be done as a team?
- Be Direct- Ask your parents what they want to happen if they are unable to care for themselves later in life. Frame the question in terms of honoring their wishes. Let them have the strongest voice and respect their choices whenever possible. Keep the focus on your parents and not past or present sibling issues. Most important, be compassionate. It isn’t easy for most people to think about being less independent down the road.
- Define Roles- Pick caregiving roles suitable for each person. If you have a sibling who works in finance, perhaps she could administer your father’s financial accounts. Even those who are geographically distant can help by phone screening caregiver applicants, participating in conference calls with medical staff, handling finances, researching benefits, troubleshooting problems and providing emotional support to your parents.
- Create a List- What needs to be done and how often? Documenting tasks and utilizing online sign-ups such as Lotsahelpinghands.com or SignUpGenius.com can help to organize a team of caregivers. Caregiving tasks will never be divided equally, but everyone can play a role if willing.
- Take Notes- Whenever someone has a conversation with your parents about their wishes, or has medical or other updates, be sure to document these and share with your siblings. Ask your parents to put their wishes in writing and consult with an elder law attorney if necessary.
- Create a Caregiving Team- Seek to involve volunteers from your loved one’s church, synagogue, club, or community. Employ a companion to transport or accompany your mother to activities she enjoys. A combination of caregivers can contribute to the overall wellbeing of your loved one—and give you peace of mind.
- Utilize Experts- If your siblings still disagree about who should be Power of Attorney or where Mom and Dad should live, consider a family conference call with a Care.com Care Advisor. We listen to everyone, help determine caregiving roles, and guide you and your family to develop a plan of care. In many cases, resources and provider options can be identified for your loved ones. For example, a geriatric care manager can be employed to provide an on-site, objective assessment of your parents’ needs, coordinate ongoing care, and communicate with everyone on the caregiving team.
Take the sibling rivalry out of caregiving and remember that you don’t have to figure this out on your own. Care.com’s Adult & Senior Care Advisors are here to help. Call us at (855) 781-1303 to discuss how your family members can work together to honor your loved ones’ wishes as they age.