More than three-fourths of all family members who currently serve as a caregiver to an aging and ailing parent receive no help from other family members, according to the National Family Caregivers Association.
Should these solo caregivers continue to suffer in silence and bear the burden of caregiving alone? Or should they confront their siblings about the lack of caregiving help that they are volunteering to provide to help care for an aging parent? And how does it happen that the responsbility of caregiving often falls to just one individual?
Very often circumstances surrounding geographical location, career choices, financial ability and other work and family responsibilities will make one family sibling, usually a middle-aged woman, more available to take on the responsibilities and duties of caring for an aging parent. Likewise, siblings who opt out of offering any financial support or day to day physical help plead that their own familiy responsibilities, job or business demands, financial stresses and long distance from the ailing parent as excuses for dumping all the responsibilities upon one sibling. Very often families fall into familiar roles as parents age, with the serious responsible child taking up eldercare burden while siblings who have traditionally been lazy, irresponsible and unavailable continue in this same pattern when it comes to stepping up to the plate to offer eldercare.
Experts in caregiving caution that any one sibling who must undertake the total burden of providing care for an aging parent will sooner or later suffer emotional, physical and financial burn-out without help from other siblings.
A smart way to confront less than helpful siblings about their lack of caregiving help is to call all members of a family into a family meeting. This meeting does not actually have to require everyone’s physical presence, but can be conducted by phone conference call or e-mail.
The purpose of this meeting is not to confront the less helpful siblings in any emotional or accusing manner. Make clear upfront that the purpose of the meeting is to ask for everyone’s help and support in outlining the best manner in which everyone can contribute to the caregiving responsbility in order to lighten the entire burden currently being placed on just one person.
To conduct such a meeting successfully and with the desired result of enlisting more help and support from previously unhelpful siblings, it’s important for the caregiver sibling to be able to voice their feelings and concerns without blaming or accusing other siblings.
The caregiver sibling should outline just where and how they need additional help and support from other family members to lighten their burden, then give all other family members in the meeting five minutes to respond with ideas and comments.
It’s helpful that a detailed list of caregiving responsibilities be distributed to everyone attending the meeting. Often siblings don’t realize just how much care and effort goes into caring for an aging parent until they see a list of 10 or 20 things that the caregiver is now responsble for on a daily basis with no break in sight.
Discuss which items on the list could be distributed to other family members other than the primary caregiver. Even siblings who live at a distance can be enlisted to make phone calls, handle bill paying and other paperwork that can lighten the main caregiver’s load. Allow unhelpful siblings to volunteer to handle items on the list rather than demanding their help. A sibling who cannot give time may be able to contribute financially. A sibling who may not be able to contribute financially can give of their time or emotional support instead.
Family meetings have proven extremely helpful in allowing all siblings in a family to better understand the challenges involved in having only one sibling serve as total caregiver. Asking for the cooperation and help from previously unhelpful siblings is a start in the right direction for lessening the main caregiver’s burden and gets better results than merely confronting siblings with the accusation, “when are you going to start doing your share?”
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