Out-of-Town Siblings Might Feel Shut Out of Caregiving

72 Comments

There's a great deal of angst in the family caregiver world about siblings who don't help out with the aging parents. Very often, it's the person who lives closest to the parents who ends up being the primary caregiver. This is kind of a default thing because logistics would make it seem only, well, logical.

Dividing the Caregiving Duties

However, the adult child living closest to the parents may not be the one who is best suited emotionally, financially or practically, for the job. This person may be a single mother trying desperately to take care of children and provide them with a living by working two low paying jobs. Then she takes on the parents, as they live in the same town. She is, understandably, overwhelmed.

This is when she needs to turn to her siblings for whatever help they can give. If they can't be present physically, they should help financially, or with bill paying and legal paperwork. They should do something, but often they don't. Many times, it's because siblings just don't want to be bothered. They assume that the sibling that's closest can handle it and they don't have a clue about how much time is involved in the parent care process. And they really don't care.

Give Out-of-Town Siblings a Chance

But sometimes – yes it happens – sometimes the caregiver martyr syndrome kicks in. Sometimes, the in-town caregiver doesn't really give the out-of-town siblings a chance. We all know of couples who actually love complaining about the spouse. They'd be devastated if the spouse actually lived up to their expectations, as then there wouldn't be anything to complain about. Well, this same thing can happen to caregivers. They have an ego investment in caring for the parent. They love the "Honey, one day you'll have jewels in your crown" comments by the little church ladies. They love the sympathy they get from colleagues.

How to Involve Siblings in Caring for Elders

It's sad, of course. But this is one more way that old sibling issues can rear up and make parent care an ugly family issue rather than a collaborative one. Caregivers, before bad-mouthing siblings, must honestly ask themselves (and perhaps another trusted person or even a counselor) if they have truly included the siblings. Have they asked for a family conference? Have they asked if the sibling can do something specific such as bill paying? Have they asked if someone can help Mom pay for an in-home caregiver a few hours a week so the primary caregiver can have a break?

Siblings Who Feel Shut Out of Caregiving

There are some siblings who live away from parents and feel totally shut out. They get frantic about the situation but don't know how to approach the caregiving sibling without that sibling feeling distrusted or threatened. Again, this generally goes back to issues from childhood. Perhaps the hands-on caregiver is still trying to get Mom's approval, so she refuses to let her siblings contribute to the caregiving process. She wants to be the hero. And slowly, slowly she gets unconsciously sucked into the mire of complaining that siblings never help and she must do it all, and the ultimate martyr is born. Or, maybe the caregiver is doing her best to care for a parent who never cared for her.

Be aware. Yes, in most cases I've heard about, the caregiver is well founded in complaining that his or her siblings have blown off the responsibility of aging parents and underestimated (greatly) the time spend and sacrifices made by the caregiver. They'd just as soon not know, as they want to keep living their own lives as they have always done. They choose to live in denial about a parent's condition.

Examine Your Own Motives

But there is another side to this story. If you are a primary caregiver and have siblings who are not in the loop, take a good look at yourself. Ask a trusted friend for advice. See if you have truly given your siblings a chance to be part of the team. If so, it's their problem if they resent or ignore you. But if not, maybe it's time to burn the martyr hat and get your siblings involved. Tell them specifically what help you need. Give them a chance to be part of the team. It could be that the whole family dynamic will start to change with that one small gesture and the caregiver and care receiver will benefit greatly from much needed help.

Carol Bradley Bursack

Follow this author

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.

Visit Minding Our Elders

View full profile

You May Also Like

Free AgingCare Guides

Get the latest care advice and articles delivered to your inbox!

72 Comments

Martyr syndrome? This is a very offensive article. The only accuracy in this article is that the person getting stuck with the care is the person who lives closest and it's usually the divorced or widowed daughter. I don't care if siblings live in China, they shoudl take a turn or chip in and put the old person in a nursing home.
Arose4you, I totally related to this comment "What's most infuriating is none of the sibilings (even the ones that are helping some what) truly understand the stress of caregiving. They are not involved in the future long-term planning for our parents or how much of a financial strain their needs cause on us."

It is the lack of emotional support and moral support that gets me, and that can be provided from across the world if the sibling is willing to provide it. It's out of sight, out of mind for my siblings. I have one sibling who lives only a few blocks from Mom. She doesn't stop in, check up, call or anything. I have tried to enlist her (and others) in working out some longer term plans for Mom, but she's not willing to be involved. The burden isn't falling on her, so she doesn't care. Then she accuses me of creating drama when I freak out about how much more dependent and demanding Mom is getting all the time. I'm not taking the blame for my sibling being a horse's rump. It's all on her!
I experienced what I guess you would call an emotional collapse about 3 years into caregiving, I ended up in the hospital myself. I had just gone through having mom in one hospital for scheduled surgery and than dad in another (30 miles apart) for an emergency surgery, not scheduled.

I held it together while this was all going on, with no help, going back and forth, one parent coming home, one going to a rehab for a few weeks.,,,than fell apart.

My sweet brother upon hearing(long distance) of my condition said to me on the phone "I'm so disappointed in you"....amazing. Not "OMG what happened?", "How can I help?"

Amazing.