On the one hand, we’re lucky – with medical and nutritional advancements, we’re afforded more time to spend with our parents. The flip side of that coin, however is that people who live longer are more likely to require care for a degenerative illness. Taking on the role of caregiver for the people who shepherded you from childhood can be conflicting and stressful, but if you find a way to work well with your siblings, you can relieve the pressure you feel, while ensuring your parents receive the best care possible.
1. Role play
As an adult, spending time with family can often mean we slip into familiar roles we played as a child, even if we don’t realise it. Perhaps, as the youngest, your siblings treat you as immature or naïve; maybe you were studious in school, and are still expected to be a nerd. These roles are seldom created by the player, and are usually facilitated by a parent’s expectation. When you and your siblings come together to care for your parents, it’s important that you examine these roles and do your best to shake them off. You’re adults now – with adult responsibilities and concerns.
2. Communication is key
Having open, honest lines of communication is vital when multiple people are sharing the role of caregiver. Especially when not everyone involved lives close by, things like group emails can be a great way to make sure everyone has exactly the same information available to them.
This doesn’t stop at advice and updates provided by professionals – parents are often guilty of telling different things to siblings, not out of malice, but out of concern for who can best handle difficult information. Be frank with your siblings about what mum said to you when you asked her how her health was, and ask them to do the same.
3. Be compassionate
When you act in the role of a caregiver, you usually have experience being compassionate. However, that compassion is likely extended to the one for whom you are caring, with less consideration for those alongside you. Caregiving can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally – and we all handle the responsibilities in different ways. It’s not up to us to pass judgement on how much our siblings contribute to the care of parents. If a sibling isn’t pulling their weight, in your opinion, then perhaps you could find time to have an open, honest conversation with them about the added pressure that puts on you and others. This conversation will give them the chance to show compassion for you, but also to express their own feelings, giving you the opportunity to better understand their own priorities, and the relationship they have with your parents’ condition.
What’s one piece of advice you would give to someone sharing the role of caregiver with their siblings?