Sharing elder care with siblings, do not demand it, do not expect it and do not rule out a facility.

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Long time reader, occasional participant. I'm absolutely no professional on this but ... between my parents, my in-laws, my uncle, extended family, friends and (being old myself) ... me I've some tangential experiences.

Caring for your loved ones can be a pain and, often, sibling interactions can make it even worse. In another post a caretaker lamented ... it's not like the slacker siblings are even going to see any of these posts.

Well, I'm one of those "slackers" and I read this stuff regularly. God bless the caretakers but ...

If one sibling makes the decision that Mom or Dad should stay home they just can't demand that everyone else see it their way and/or just jump on board.

Of course none of us should ignore our elderly parents but we all need to balance what's best for them along with what's best for ourselves. If we impoverish ourselves on behalf of our parents are we not setting ourselves (and our own kids) up for the same frustrations?

Suze Orman, the leather clad finance expert, often says, "Do what's best for yourself first as that's often what's best for your family."

My suggestion is that each sibling pretend that they are an "only child" and come up with a care plan.

Now if all siblings' plans were to immerse themselves 24 x 7 in Mom's care then it makes sense that all siblings should share the load somewhat equitably.

But if sister's plan is to immerse herself 24 x 7 while brother's care plan is to move Mom into a facility then where does sister get off demanding 12 x 7 (equal) participation from brother?

Ditto for the "single child" who's got the$100K (and more) to send Mom to a "memory care unit" and then demands I ante up half. Ain't no way (not on a $15K pension and $15K Social Security).

No parent is perfect but I do believe many to be good or, at least, well-intentioned. While parents may strive to love all their children equally they often have a one size fits all parenting plan which works for some kids but, often, not for all kids. Thus, siblings will often have different memories and different feelings about their childhood and for their parents.

And some parents are, and always were, just plain ol' jackasses. Just because they get old doesn't mean they are suddenly saints deserving of around the clock love and care. (I think if a parent is demanding to remain at home while the kids cater to them that they are exactly the kind of parent that belongs in a facility.)

I think siblings do owe each other complete honesty about how they feel and what they can or can't do and I think they owe each other respect for their view (yes, even if you think it's a bit selfish).

One family is ripping on this lady I know. They have careers, important jobs and/or own their own businesses. They don't have "free time" like the "9 to 5'ers". Plus "this lady" lives just a block away (rather than in the affluent suburbs). They all feel she should be checking in before work then after work (meal time) and then again in the evening (hey, it's just one block over).

They also feel she should be able to leave work to handle a crisis that might arise during the day. (She can, she's just an hourly employee, just a clerk.)

Because she's older, old enough to collect Social Security, they all think she should retire so she can spend more time with their parents. (She's working a couple more years so she can retire ... more comfortably.)

When she does go to help (several times a week) old wounds reopen; the constant criticism, the fights, the brutal beatings. The siblings say, "Oh, just get over it already." But you don't just get over it; PTSD is a process and it's different for everybody.

Yes, some siblings are jackasses but give it a try. Be honest with each other, be respectful, maybe even use a professional counselor to keep things on track. Give in if the family consensus is a nursing home (as that would mean you wouldn't be able to count on your siblings for a lot of help anyway). Your parents' care and safety is what's important. (Medicare will kick in once your parents run out of money.)

Best wishes ...


Helpless, I couldn't agree more that siblings should get together, negotiate and agree on a plan. In that process they would be wise to find out what is involved and decide how each person can contribute. I also agree that if one sibling is not a team player and decides to hijack the process then take control, that sibling does not have the right to make demands. I'm beginning to think that professional counseling should be suggested to all families faced with long term elder care issues.

Helpless- I like your post - well thought out and well written. If only there was an instruction booklet or a rule book that came with elder care - with a bonus section for dementia - life might be a bit easier for everyone. In my 54 years my middle brother and I haven't agreed on much - but miracle of miracles we've agreed upon every stage of our mothers care - for the most part - the big things that matter the most. If I had to guess at a reason as to why this works for us I would have to agree with you that the key is honesty with a side of openness. Brother never liked it much that I was made both DPOA and executor over him - after all, he's soooo much smarter - but I've done my best to always be transparent and answer any question he's had with complete honesty and not a hint of power-trip. Well - only one power-trip that I can remember but it was a short drive. Anyhow - thanks for the post - lots of food for thought.
Oh, I so agree with you, HelplessIn7734!
Helpless, I was agreeing with a lot of your post, though it did run a bit to the narcissistic thought side. We really can't always take the "good for me" approach to things, because there is a quid pro quo to healthy living. No one wants to reach an old age thinking we never did anything for anyone else, and vise versa. There is a richness to being a giver at time and a taker at others. The problems usually arise when there is too much giving or too much taking. Imbalances create anger.

I was a bit confused when what you wrote turned around. The wealthier siblings were picking the bones of the more meek one. The wealthier ones were doing what they wanted, leaving everything to the one sibling -- even demanding it of her. What you wrote is a very typical situation where the family evaporates, leaving one person to cope with it all. Should that person say that Mom needs to go in a NH? That would be understandable since the mother was abusive. But what if the mother absolutely refuses to go and the siblings still don't help beyond trying to bully the more humble sibling. What do you think the humble sibling should do? Walk away sounds good, but I suspect she is not made of that type stuff. How do you think the wealthier siblings could help? They seem to be benefiting from the sacrifices of the humble sibling.
Thank you RainMom. You are right, openess/transparency is most important. Worked for you and worked for me and my brothers.

When Dad passed leaving Mom there was a lot that needed to be done. Brothers were all agreeable but nothing was happening so my wife and I made a list, communicated to all including spouses, broke it into bite-sized pieces, prioritized and took it on piece by piece. Everyone was invited to everything and everything was documented with e-mails.

Fast forward Mom is happily settled in a townhouse on the edge of a senior center. Wills, living wills, trusts, estate, POAs, investments; everything is in fairly decent shape. Everyone has power, everyone's involved.

There were a couple hic-cups but the documented e-mail trail sorted those out quickly. I was momentarily overwhelmed after Mom's accident but because of my e-mails my brothers noticed that there was a lot going on and quickly jumped in.

I'm particularly pleased with the will. We were able to engage her and it sounds just like her. It doesn't all just go to the kids, some goes to each and every grandkid because she had a personal relationship with each and everyone. And she made sure all the wives were included equally because they were all like daughters to her. That's my Mom.

Knock on wood ... sometimes things just work : -)
Hi Jesse,

I included the rambling anecdote about this "lady I know" because she could have easily become another burned-out care-taker story. She stood her ground. She's no slacker though. She calls in a couple times everyday and stops over four to five times a week but she does it on her terms.

She focuses most of her time on her Dad, he has Alzheimer's. She talks with him, plays games with him and laughs with him. She has finally forged a relationship with him that she never had before.

Her Dad had money so, in their case, there were options. She stood her ground so her brothers (POAs) are finally starting to use the money to hire home care as needed.

When I say, "Do what's best for yourself" I don't mean I'd rather be watching the Kardashians than helping out Mom. I do mean I'm not going to drain my bank account, give up my job or give up my life to so a stubborn old parent can have their way.

And, yes, if the family can't or won't help out sufficiently then I would take legal action to force them into a facility and can provide for their care and safety.
I have always taken full ownership of my decision to care for my mom, I thought it through from a financial viewpoint and I figured that since we were companionable and both introverted the isolation that comes with the job description was something I could deal with. It is the nature of the task though that over time your whole focus becomes your care recipient, dealing the minutia of their behavioural, emotional and physical problems. When family can't take the time to visit, call, send a card or even acknowledge that my mom exists beyond occasionally offering opinions that I "need to get a life" (so they can stop "worrying" about me?) it p***es me off, both for her and myself. No, extended family doesn't have to share the burden equally, but sometimes it feels as though they don't remember we exist.
cwillie, I wish your siblings were more respectful of your decision to live with your Mom and I'm sorry you feel unsupported. Next time they tell you to get a life you might want to let them know that you have one, thank you very much. It's a life that suits you and you chose it for that reason.
My brothers are not involved. I am usually at peace with that. They may call every 2 or 4 weeks to talk to her for a few minutes. It makes her happy. They are her sons. Many times she tells me I should do things for them because they are my brothers. She is of the old school where women serve the men. She thinks I am awful if I don't run slay the fatted calf for them if they are coming for a visit. The problem is that, though they are her sons, they don't feel related to me in any way. When my mother dies, the thin threads holding the siblings together will be broken completely. My two brothers also have nothing to do with each other and we never hear from my deceased brother's wife except Christmas time.
Another commonality, JessieBelle. I'm pretty sure once I've settled my mothers estate and hand my brothers their check - that will
be the last time I will see them. The thin thread will have been broken.

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