How can I give my sibling a break from caregiving when I live far away?

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Q: How can I give my sister a break from taking care of our elderly dad when I live hundreds of miles away? She refuses to let me help, because she has always been controlling. Its her way or the highway, but she needs a break.

A: I'm glad you wrote to tell "the other side." This is not so unusual. Caregivers know the person they are caring for is used to the way they do things and will be upset by change, yet they desperately need a break from their duties.

As is often the case, sibling issues from childhood can get to be part of the situation, as well. This sounds a bit like what is happening here. If your sister has always been controlling, this is another way to control. But she does need a break, though she may truly feel she is doing what is best for your father.

Ideally, you'd have a third party conversation - say over a conference call, if you can't do it in person - and someone, maybe a counselor, could help all of you decide what is best.

However, reality is such that this doesn't sound likely. If you can't even get her to answer a letter or phone call, it's going to be tough to help.

Hopefully, you can find some way to communicate and tell her that since she needs a break, you can help pay for someone to relieve her at home. In-home health agencies do this, and then the argument that your dad would be disoriented by going to be with you (very possibly true) wouldn't hold water.

Lack of communication and control issues abound in these situations and about all I can tell you is that you aren't alone in this. There are many in your shoes.

Try the offer of paid help and see if you get a response. If she won't even respond to that, then you'll have to detach, or go in person and see what really can be done.

Carol Bradley Bursack

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Over the span of two decades, author, columnist, consultant and speaker Carol Bradley Bursack cared for a neighbor and six elderly family members. Her experiences inspired her to pen, "Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories," a portable support group book for caregivers.

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15 Comments

Have you tried asking your sister what she would like you to do to help her? Has her caring for your dad been appreciated by you? If so, have you communicated that to her? Can you offer money to buy her a break. You haven't been real clear about the control issues between you,. I just know that issues between siblings often come up and escalate because the main caregiver's burden has steadily increased with little or no emotional support or appreciation forthcoming from other family members who wish the inconvenience of it all would just go away. This doesn't sound like you,but sometimes sibs don't realize that they don't offer support or even a thank you.
Pay for maid service for a month or two, if you can. Lord, I'd love it if my siblings did that for me. Once a month, come visit for the weekend and let your sister sleep, go out... be off the clock for a night or two. If she can get out of the house, she'll feel like she had a weekend off. Anything you can do to support your sister helps and she'll appreciate it once she gets over the shock of receiving help.

Caregivers sometimes get stubborn and overprotective, but once we get a good break and feel confident in the the person giving the relief it's easy to let go and look forward to the break.
Give her an Ear and listen.