Getting Your Siblings to Help With Caregiving

99 Comments

When an elderly parent’s health begins to fail, one adult child generally assumes the role of primary caregiver. While this arrangement may work well for a time, it can eventually lead to resentment when you find yourself shouldering most of the burden—especially if other siblings live nearby and still don’t help out.

Before you say or do something that you’ll regret later, it’s important to take a look at why you accepted this responsibility in the first place, says Lynne Coon, M.S., a licensed professional counselor in Portland, Oregon.

There are many reasons why people take on the role of primary caregiver, such as closest proximity to the parent or greatest availability to help out, but it’s often because one child sees themselves as most suitable for the job, says Coon. Unfortunately, a competent and capable adult child who has taken on this role typically begins doing more and more until they become solely responsible for most or all of the caregiving duties.

While it’s best to involve other siblings before such a pattern develops, it is possible to redistribute these responsibilities later in the game. Use these ideas for opening the lines of communication and enlisting the support of your siblings.

  • Call a family meeting. Whether by conference call or in person, schedule a time with ALL of your siblings to discuss the issues that your parents are facing and what needs to be done to address them.
  • Make a written agenda. “Write down an agenda for discussion so that nothing is overlooked,” says Wendy Wollner, a family and life-balancing specialist and CEO of Balancing Life’s Issues, Inc. “Before the meeting or call, write down a detailed list or schedule of everything you are currently doing on your own, such as providing health care, housekeeping, transportation, etc.” This will help you specifically convey the responsibilities you handle and avoid abstractions that won’t be taken as seriously, like “I do everything!”
  • Balance listening and talking. Explain how you feel in a matter-of-fact way, but be open to others’ feelings and viewpoints, too. This is a difficult topic for everyone, and generally a lot of emotions are involved. Your siblings may not be aware of how much you’ve been doing, and they may even feel left out when it comes to addressing your parent’s needs.
  • Be specific about what you want. Have an idea beforehand of which tasks you’d like to be relieved of rather than just making a general appeal for help. Perhaps you’d like someone to take over the transportation to physical therapy appointments or give a hand with grocery shopping or meal preparation.
  • Divide up tasks. While there are many ways of doing this, Coon suggests delegating tasks according to each person’s skills and expertise. A sibling with experience in the medical field could take on all of the doctor’s appointments, for example. Or the person with good business sense might be able to handle legal issues or put together a budget. Make sure to include siblings who live a distance away. Even if they can’t help with hands-on care, they might be able to contribute funds for a housekeeper or plan respite visits every few months to give you and the other siblings a break.
  • Don’t expect total equality. It’s not likely that you’ll divvy up tasks equally. This is okay, says Kaufman. “It’s more important to work together as much as possible and help alleviate some of the stress on each other.” Don’t think of it as an equal or nothing arrangement, or you’re likely to be disappointed.

Family Dynamics Can Complicate Caregiving

Keep in mind that it’s normal to experience tension when siblings are faced with caring for their parents. Childhood jealousies, rivalries and old grudges may resurface under the pressure to work together and make sacrifices. “If disagreements arise,” says Kaufman, “it’s good to remind yourself that this has nothing to do with what you or your siblings want. It’s about what’s best for Mom or Dad.”

Disagreements may be avoided by setting down ground rules for discussion ahead of time, such as agreeing to listen to and consider every alternative, even if some don’t seem workable. If all else fails, an option for moving past communication difficulties is family mediation. Mediation is an informal process in which a neutral third party helps people to better understand their individual interests and needs so that they can agree upon a workable solution to a problem. This process empowers families to better understand one another and devise their own solutions. To find a mediator, ask your attorney for a referral or contact your local senior center or Area Agency on Aging.

Even if you’re successful in achieving a better distribution of responsibilities, it’s important to continue communicating. Hold regular family meetings to ensure all siblings are aware of any changes in your parent’s condition and plan of care. Let them know how much their help is needed AND appreciated. “You’ve got to keep pulling together,” says Coon, “for your own peace of mind and for your parents.”


Linda Hepler is a freelance health writer whose work has appeared in a variety of health and fitness publications, such as Family Doctor, Fitness Plus, and Max Sports and Fitness. She received her BS in nursing from Eastern Michigan University and works part time as an Employee Health Nurse in northern Michigan.

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99 Comments

I took advice like this when I was caregiving and was very dissappointed at the results. None of my siblings would help and some even got mad at me for asking them to help. I was the one who lived closest and I feel that I was the one least capable to do the job. That is why I don't find advice, that portrays the caregiver as a person who is controlling everything and who thinks that they are the only ones who can do the job correctly, helpful. That is not true in many cases. Many of us ask for help from the very beginning and still end up bearing most of the caregiving duties. Caregivers need support and validation, that is why we come to this forum.
I saw a comment where the out of town siblings want to be paid to come. You are not alone My brother and his family wanted to be reimbursed for coming to visit at Thanksgiving, my father agreed to pay for the kids airfare, but not the others. They took it out on me because I wrote the checks for him and stopped speaking to me. I only wrote checks that he told me to write, so I had nothing to do with his decision. They also demanded to be reimbursed for everything they spent when they came to the funeral. They make more money than anyone in our family. It hurts me to this day that they don't speak to me, but I have to move on.
When I wrote my comments on this it was two days afterwards my Dad passed away. I never got much help tending to him and at times it was probably better that way since I wanted peace for my father and not drama or upset in my home. One sibling lives out of town the other two close in town. While they visited here it was fine but brother and men (I am not saying this to degrade any men on here) don't know what to do when it comes time TO DO. I had to let it go. Hardest thing for me now is dealing with the grief and getting my health in order after watching my father for so long and a part of me died each day watching him slowly die. It is hard hard work and it plays on your emotions especially when it is someone you love so much... .If I was ever to caretake anyone ever again I would make sure respite was in a place each and every week! I have missed you all on here and will be back to write more. Since my fathers passing I have been ill and trying to focus on the things I neglected in my life for 27 months. I miss my Dad. Love them now because once they are gone there is no more words they can hear, no more hugs and kisses good night..Forget about who helps or who does not help. You are there and they know it and all you need to concentrate is on that. Excuses are lame..They have to live with it. Not you. Not the caretaker. God knows all you do for your loved one and your loved one knows it too. That is all that really matters in the scheme of things. Blessings and hugs out to you all.
Crystal, Bills Girl, Debbie. etc.. oh my gosh. you all nailed it! And, like you, I did what the articles suggested.. I asked, told, BEGGED my siblings to help. I get the occasional visit, but what drives me crazy the most is the "we've tried to offer you advice, but you don't want to talk about it." I already have home care involved, and loving FRIENDS who help, as my siblings who are nearby always have excuses. They cannot say that they didn't know how bad it was or any of that stuff, they have been told, and they've seen it for themselves. There is always some lame excuse. I told them I'm over it, and honestly, I don't want to talk to them anymore. I'm disgusted but their lack of compassion for an elderly man who is sad and just needs company.. more than I can offer. We are supposed to take care of our elderly, and I'm doing it out of love. What's their excuse for NOT doing it? God bless you all. Please know that you are doing the right thing :)