How should siblings share the burden of providing elder care for our parents?

2 answers | Last updated: Dec 30, 2011
A fellow caregiver asked...

Do you have a resource for information on how to discuss and plan for a parents care among siblings? My wife and I are close to Mom and my wife's siblings are younger with young children and career concerns impacted by the economy and we feel they are putting things "out of sight, out of mind" for convenience. How can we talk about the many issues in elder care amongst ourselves and with the aging parent? Are there certain steps to follow or stages to consider before bringing the parent into the questioning and planning process? We are closer to retirement and our children are already out of the house and on their own.

We feel a great deal of tension and we want to avoid the family being driven further apart.

Community Answers

Judithmft answered...

I'd like to recommend a great book called "The Parent Care Conversation" that helps adult kids think through many of these issues.  Also, from my own experience, it has really helped to divide the tasks of supporting our parents based on our skill sets.  My sister is farther away and is great at numbers and on-line banking, so she has taken over almost all bills for my father, and monitors his bank accounts and credit cards and email online.  I am good with medical stuff and am near by so I take him to all medical appointments, monitor medications, and coordinate home care aides.  My brother is close enough to be here on weekends, so we created a schedule that brings him up twice a month to spend social time with our father or do household chores so I get a break.  This system has worked well with us.

Puddlejumper answered...

If you don't include your siblings, it will come as quite a shock when you finally do so - because it will be in crisis situation. Aside from that, it may help the sibling to know that the elder is being noticed. Perhaps you can word conversations as "I'm just letting you know; it's nothing you have to solve for us."

My brother lives far away; Mom lives close to me. I e-mail him whenever I notice anything unusual, like falls or patterns of forgetfulness. He appreciates the updates and that she is being taken care of.

Definitely begin the conversation with the parent. It is probably never too soon. One tactic I have taken is "You don't need it (cane, walker, caregiving, "financial takeoever", whatever) right now, but let's arrange for this and when you need it you'll be used to it and it will be here." That works pretty well as it takes into account her desire to declare that she's still able, and it provides a measure of security for me.

Consider asking your parent to visit banker & lawyer with you to discuss ideas and solutions now, well before you need to establish them (Tell your sibling first and tell them why you're doing this - he or she will possibly get a different story from your parent). It helps to have the solutions proposed by someone without the emotional investment of family.

Afterwards, gently debrief with your parent and find out what he or she thought about the ideas. Revisit the suggestions gently several months later, and then again, until you get it worked out.

Keep doing things with your parent that he or she enjoys so that he or she doesn't believe you're only after the money! (Tell you sibling of your outings, too.)