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The NSPA Blog

Managing Caregiving with Siblings

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Posted on July 18th, 2019 by Bettina Carlson, under Caregiver, Caregiving, Medical Planning, Patient Advocacy, Take Charge, Tips & Resources

When your elderly parents’ health declines and they can no longer manage their life on their own, some may choose to live in a Retirement Facility or Assisted Living or Memory Care Facility, depending on the level of care they need. But not everyone has that option, some may lack the needed finances, others may not find a suitable facility within a reasonable distance. And yet others, just don’t want to leave their home. Whether your parents move into any of the supported living facilities, or and especially if, they remain at home, their children may become their primary caregivers. And that is a challenging task.

If you are lucky to not be an only child you have siblings to share the caregiving with. At least in an ideal world. Because unfortunately, we hear often enough, that one or two siblings do all the work, while the others do very little or even nothing; and if it’s really bad, on top of it, the hands-off siblings criticize their caregiving siblings for how they take care of their parents. Their reasons as to why they cannot be more involved or involved at all: they live too far away, they have families, they work so much, they don’t know how to help, and so on and forth. It can not only cause strife and resentment between siblings, it can destroy sibling relationships.

While there may not be an ideal world there are ways to create a more harmonious and productive cooperation amongst siblings. It will take some time and it will require compromises, to come up with a plan that works for all.

So, how do you do this?

Plan Ahead

Don’t wait until a situation arises that forces you to make quick decisions, as it most likely will be a highly stressful situation, which you need to approach with calm. Each of you siblings may have their own idea as how to proceed with the imminent needs for your parents’ care, potentially causing major conflict amongst you, when you already find yourselves overwhelmed with the complexities of the situation. So, you and your siblings ought to schedule a conversation regarding your parents’ future care plan well ahead of time. You may not want to involve your parents in the initial discussion so you can freely express yourselves.  

Ideally, you meet in person – If you don’t live in the same city, maybe you schedule this meeting during the next family gathering, like a birthday or holiday; but find a way to have a private meeting away from you parents. If you cannot find the time to meet in person, you could make use of FaceTime, Skype, or other online meeting services; or just a plain phone conversation. Just have the conversation ahead of time of an emergency!

The Talk

When you talk about your parents’ future care plan make sure you are listening well to each other’s observations of how they see your parents and their possible needs, as each of you may bring to the plan a different perspective that you may not have observed yourself. If there are other people that are close to your parents, for example their siblings, other relatives, or close friends, involve them, too. This exercise will not only provide you with a good starting point of a plan, it may also help you feel like you are a team.

While you may not involve your parents in the initial or any conversation you still want to talk with them about their future care. Your parents may feel uncomfortable discussing this topic with you. Find out who they are comfortable with, maybe a friend, relative, clergy, doctor, and involve them. It can be quite frustrating to get your parents to discuss their future, please be patient with them.

And lastly continue to have discussions about this plan because as time goes on preferences and needs may change.

Assigning Responsibilities

Once you gathered information and you have a good idea of your parents’ needs and desires you can assign responsibilities amongst each other. You can assign based on your individual skills, your interests, your availability,  and whatever other criteria you identify. If one of you is good with numbers, they could assume the financial aspects; if one is good with contracts, they could assume the legal and insurance matters; and just because someone lives 500 or more miles away doesn’t mean they cannot participate, i.e., they could be responsible for online research to share with the rest of the siblings. As long as you know what is needed and are honest with each other and willing to make it work, you can do it.

Important to keep in mind, keep the dialogue with each other going! Needs change, preferences change, stay on top of it. Caregiving is stressful and challenging. When you notice you feel overwhelmed by something or someone, speak up immediately before it grows into a big problem that inevitably will blow up. Be respectfully honest with each other; being honest creates trust and can help tackle a problem before it blows up. Because our lives are so busy and time is always stretched thin, schedule regular conversations with each other, personal meetings, phone conversations, Skype calls, etc..

Be Realistic and Flexible

No matter how good of a plan you put together no matter how responsible each of you approaches your part, caregiving is a challenging and ever-evolving job. Emotionally, physically, financially, changes can arise at the drop of a pin. Be mindful and flexible to making adjustments when an unexpected situation arises. For example: After some time of being the primary caregiver, your siblings may feel emotionally and totally overwhelmed by the demands of the physical caregiving; maybe you are in a position to cover for her for some time, or you may hire someone if needed and if possible, while your siblings may assume a different responsibility, or maybe just gets a temporary break from caregiving altogether to regain her emotional balance.  Or your siblings were supposed to care for your parents who came down with the flu, but now your siblings themselves are sick at home with the flu; cover for your siblings if you can at all. Or your out-of-town siblings lost their job and money is tight, and they may not be able to come and visit, maybe you can financially contribute to pay for travel expenses so they can come visit with your parents. 

And no matter how responsible each of you are you all may have different ways of approaching the various aspects of caregiving . And while those ways may be very different from yours, accept that your siblings have their own styles, and focus on the fact that they do their parts. They are part of your team, remember?! You do this together! Support and motivate one another, do not dismiss and tear down each other.

And last but not least, accept that no matter how hard you try to assign even and fair loads of responsibilities to each of you, it may never be even and fair. And one of your siblings may not even want to participate in your parents’ care at all. Before you disown that sibling from your family, see if there any ways whatsoever to have them participate on even the smallest level.

It is no easy journey to take care of our loved ones – not alone, and not even as a team. But if you have ongoing honest and respectful discussions, if you have realistic expectations, and if you support one another thru the personal lows, working together as a team will be a great resource. And your parents will fare well because of it.  

Resources for Further Reading on Caregiving and Sibling Relationship:




ICOPA Conference 2019

On another note we at NShore Patient Advocates would like to share some of our latest news with you… The Patient Advocacy Symposium is back, but bigger, better, and brighter than ever before! It has evolved into the International Conference on Patient Advocacy (ICOPA), and will be held right here in Northfield, IL on October 3rd-5th, 2019! We hope you will join us! Please see below for a link with more information:

For a no-cost 30 minute initial consultation, please call 847-612-6684 or click here to fill out our online callback request form.