Providing care for an ageing or ill parent can put a significant strain on sibling relationships. A survey commissioned by the Alzheimer’s Association found that more than half (61%) of carers felt that they didn’t get the support they needed from their siblings and it affected their relationship.
In an ideal situation, caregiving gives siblings the opportunity to practically work together and be an emotional support for each other in difficult times. However, in reality, it can be very stressful and feeling under pressure can lead to tension and conflict.
The demands of caregiving can bring out old behaviour patterns and underlying family tensions as past wounds open up again and rivalries re-emerge. Adult children may end up resuming the role in the family that they did as a child, and competing for the attention and approval of their parents. This behaviour pattern can heighten the difficulties that arise as a result of differences of opinion about the situation.
Even if old behaviour patterns do not reappear, differences of opinion can still occur for a number of reasons. The most common causes of conflict between siblings caring for an elderly parent are as follows.
Perception of the Level of Care Required
Having different perceptions of the need of the parent can cause conflict between siblings. This affects each sibling’s idea of the most appropriate course of action to take in order to care for their parent. For example, one sibling may think that their parent can manage at home with the assistance of their children and other in-home care, while the other may think assisted living is more appropriate. In some cases, guilt can be a major factor that affects this decision. If one sibling lives further away or is unable to contribute to providing care for their parent, they may be more overbearing with their opinions. There are professional guidance services available that can help to minimise this type of conflict by giving families an idea of the level of care that is needed and offering realistic solutions to their situation. This is known as care management and a health provider may be able to refer you to these services.
How the Caregiving Load is Shared
The roles involved in caregiving are very rarely split completely equally between siblings. According to the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, the average family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman. An adult daughter is most often responsible for the majority of the care for a parent and will often spend around 20 hours a week caregiving. If other siblings are not pulling their weight or showing their appreciation the sibling doing the majority of the work may start to feel resentment towards them. Caregivers who do not feel appreciated have more problematic relationships with their siblings.
Siblings who are aware that they do less caregiving should take note to say ‘thanks’ and find ways to show their appreciation to the main caregiver, for example by taking on extra tasks to give them a break. For the carer who is taking on most of the load, it’s important to speak to siblings and ask for help. Telling them the specific tasks that they can do to help is often effective and dividing tasks according to each sibling’s skill set and availability can also work. If things are still too much, hiring paid caregivers can lighten the load and reduce tensions in the family, so are well worth the financial investment.
Money and Inheritance Disputes
All too often, siblings argue over money. This conflict can be intensified when considering dividing up the share of caring. Arguments can arise as a result of a long-term issue, such as how assets are expected to be divided in a parent’s will or can be in relation to the costs associated with caring. In many cases, the sibling who is the primary carer of the parent will use their own money to pay for things that they need to care for their parent, such as groceries, cleaning products, and excursions. When doing this regularly, costs can significantly add up and can reach around $7,000 a year, according to an AARP report. Conversely, the parent may give more gifts and spend more on the child who is caring for them more, which can aggravate their siblings.
If siblings are spending their time arguing over money, they may lose sight of what is in the best interest of their parents. Seeking expert help, for example from a financial planner, elder lawyer or professional mediators can help. A professional can give objective advice about the current situation as well as provide information about the costs the family is likely to incur as a result of long term care and how to plan ahead. It can be useful for the entire family together with this third party to discuss all of these matters.
If you are the primary carer for an elder relative, the Compassionate Touch® course may be of interest to you. It combines skilled touch with compassionate presence to enhance the quality of life and reduce the need for medication. Alternatively, if you need some time out to focus on yourself, check out Ageless Grace®.