Providing care for your ageing parent can be complicated when you consider the many practical and financial issues that go along with it. Can you manage the care of your parent by yourself? Do you need additional home care and nursing care support? If your parent lives in East Sydney, the northern suburbs, or somewhere else in NSW, what options are available there?
Throw into this mix a multitude of opinions, and feelings of inadequacy, hurt or competition arising from childhood, and suddenly what is already a difficult experience turns into something far worse. It’s normal to need love, approval and feel important or competent as a sibling; however, without realising it, these feelings can get in the way of how families deal with their parent and with each other.
Aged care brings up unexpected emotions in families
Recognising and understanding the fear, pain or need causing your own reaction or the reaction of a sibling can go a long way towards diffusing family conflict. This is a time to draw on your reserves of compassion – not just for others, but yourself also. Be kind!
Spare some extra compassion for individuals who play the lead caregiving role. Often, this is someone who lives nearby or has a close relationship with the parent. Yet when a single sibling provides the majority of care, feelings of resentment abound. Avoid the chaos by spelling out exactly which support tasks each individual will provide, whether face to face support, responsibility for paperwork, coordinating care and liaising with health professionals, or some form of financial compensation.
Good aged care requires good communication
Communication, of course, is key to working successfully with siblings towards providing the best of aged care for a parent. Keeping everyone up to date on how things are progressing via email or video conferencing will make it a more supportive process and easier for everyone to find a role if distance or other commitments means the whole family can’t be in the same room.
Prior to the meeting, plan a loose agenda and send it out to family members for their input ahead of time. The agenda might include:
- The latest report from the physician and main care provider
- A time of general sharing about the illness and caregiving
- Daily caregiving needs. What has changed? How do we deal with that? How much time does each family member have for visiting?
- Financial concerns in caregiving. How much work can family members afford to miss? How much will it cost?
- Who will make decisions and how will they be made?
- What support role does each person want to play and how can the primary caregiver receive help and respite?
- How will support needs change as our parent’s illness progresses?
For more information and advice on how to run a family meeting, some of the pitfalls of family dysfunction, and how to reach consensus, go to Australian Institute of Family Studies and Family Caregiver Alliance.
Five things to win more support from your siblings in a family meeting
Talking with your siblings over parent care can be easier in the long run if you try some of these things:
- Stop thinking that your siblings are bad. They just think differently to you. Accept them as they are, not as you wish they were. Don’t label them as wrong, lazy, irresponsible and uncaring when they simply have a different perspective and a different relationship with your parent to you.
- Work out what you really want from your siblings. Ask yourself if you really, deep down want help. org says that many family carers say they want help but actually discourage it. Is it possible you think that no one can do as good a job as you? Would you actually prefer financial or emotional support? If so, ask specifically, directly and realistically for what you need.
- Avoid using guilt trips when talking with your siblings. If you think making them feel guilty will force them to step up and take more responsibility, you’re wrong says org. In an already fraught relationship, the use of guilt results in anger, criticism and avoidance. However, when you express appreciation for someone who has been helpful, and when you’re bold enough to respectfully ask for acknowledgement for what you have done, you open up better communication for ongoing responsibilities.
- Don’t get into a power struggle about legal powers. Your parent’s voice is important in this situation, and you need to respect the fact that they have the right to decide who has power of attorney. However, this doesn’t mean that you can’t ask the sibling with power of attorney to be open and transparent about how they are spending your parent’s money.
- Don’t let inheritance disputes tear the family apart. If you’re upset about the distribution of money and property, remember that your parent made the decision, not your sibling. Sometimes a parent will choose to leave more to one sibling because they have more concerns for that child. However, if you suspect foul play, consult a lawyer.
Or course it is always possible that some family dynamics won’t yield consensus or satisfactory results. Families are complex and trying conditions only exacerbate the toxicity present in some family relationships. If this is the case, you will need to bring in an objective professional to help you stay on track and resolve the dispute equitably, someone like a family therapist, aged care manager, physician or clergy.
Dealing with siblings over parent care can be difficult, complex and emotional. But we only get one chance at it. Make sure your parents get the care they deserve and preserve your relationships with family.