Taking care of our parents when they grow old can be one of the most difficult experiences an individual must face. It constitutes an unexpected and initially uncomfortable role reversal: the child must act as the parent—it is, after all, his or her filial duty to see that a parent remains safe.

Even though the very idea of such a dramatic role reversal is daunting and can be depressing at times, there are even more complications to face. One such complication is conflict with your siblings over the care-taking of your elderly mother or father.

When the time comes for your parent to need care-taking, you may be able to devote the necessary amount of time to care-giving while your sibling(s) may not. It may not be geographically convenient for your sibling to fulfill the obligation of care-giving. Similarly, if your sibling is busy with a full time job or taking care of your young children, he or she may find the time commitment for eldercare nearly impossible.
And sometimes, siblings just don’t want to get involved and as long as “someone else” (menaing YOU) is handling the situation, they will find excuses not to do so.

These kinds of disparities in eldercare commitments create a fair amount of resentment between siblings. There often emerges one sibling who acts as primary caretaker. This may happen for any number of reasons. In a group or pair of siblings, there is often one sibling who stands out as the leader, just like in other types of social groups. Perhaps the parent has certain emotional bonds to certain children that facilitate primary caretaking responsibilities. If you find yourself in the position of primary caretaker, you may be frustrated with your sibling for not fulfilling his or her filial duty. And when geography or time commitments aren’t factors to justify one sibling’s lightened workload, there may be good reason for your frustration.

No matter what the reason, however, the most important thing is to try and resolve these issues of resentment. Elderly caretaking is hard enough without sibling conflict.  In order for these crippling conflicts to be resolved, all the siblings must communicate with each other clearly, making sure that each sibling’s voice is heard.

If one sibling has legitimate reasons for not being able to commit as much time as another sibling, the other siblings must be reasonable and understanding and perhaps that sibling can participate in a different way.  At the same time, however, everyone must make sure that they are making all the effort they can afford. It is OK to disagree or respectfully argue against another sibling’s excuses, but it is important to maintain respect and a familial sense of common purpose.

If it’s possible, set up a meeting of all the siblings in person rather than by phone. You need to communicate the magnitude of the situation to your siblings. Remind everybody that this is a team effort, and though it won’t be easy, you can lean on each other for support.
I would also recommend a book “Whoever Is There, Decides” by Virginia Stretcher and Sally Stretcher Grumbles. It is a humourous and practical look at caregiving shared by two sisters who were 2000 miles apart.
If you have trouble communicating the message or organizing workloads and financial obligations, eldercare mediators are a great resource to help ease some of your burden as primary caretaker. The eldercare mediator can function as a neutral third party who can arbitrate difficult matters without having a personal stake. The mediator will work with the elderly parent’s best interest in mind, and make sure each member of the family is giving his or her 100 percent.

As long as you consider these options, and make your best effort to get everyone involved, you are doing all you can as a caretaker. When frustrations run high, just remember that the ultimate goal is to take care of the loved one.


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