Skip Navigation

Caregiving and curbing family friction


Alzheimer’s patient Dorothy Eckert and her husband John Eckert’s hold hands at their home in Norristown Pa., Thursday, April 19, 2007. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

Serving as a caregiver for an ailing parent or parents can be extremely challenging. It can be physically, mentally, and emotionally draining. One of the first suggestions or ideal situations, as a caregiver, is to share the responsibility. Naturally much of this starts with the adult children.

Matt Gallardo.jpg

Matt is the Director of Community Engagement and Coaching at Messiah Lifeways. He brings nearly 20 years of experience in counseling, advocating, and guiding older adults and caregivers through many of life’s tough decisions.

As a parent’s health begins to fail, you’d hope all the kids would rally around mom or dad and work in harmony to reciprocate the care in this common reversal of caregiving roles. But not all that surprising, family dynamics, disagreement, and old wounds can make this process very complicated and typically results in one of the kids becoming the primary caregiver. This can create resentment and even more conflict between family members as the burden grows. But for the sake and wellbeing of a parent, siblings must come together.

Caregiving equity

Innocently enough, some siblings cannot offer as much help simply due to geography or certain family dynamics. If mom lives down the street from you, but lives 300 miles from your brother, there’s likely going to be some caregiving inequity. Work schedules, retirement, personal health issues, and dependent children can also create disparity among sibling caregivers.

Less forgivable is the exaggeration of some of the above obstacles or the occasionally uttered dig, “well dad liked you best, so he’d rather you care for him” or “I’ll do my part,” then they disappear or gradually minimize their efforts.

Lastly are the inexcusable reasons for not partaking in the caregiving effort, such as simply turning a blind eye or a purposeful absence due to a held over grudge or poor relationship with siblings or that parent. But some old wounds can run very deep, and estrangement is sometimes irreversible.

Putting differences aside and gaining perspective

For whatever reason the family dysfunction exists, I think most can and must get beyond these obstacles. Open communication and planning are essential. If our parent needs us, we need to get over ourselves. Here are some suggestions to share the caregiving load:

• Call a family meeting – Include everyone to discuss the situation to work toward a common goal, especially for out-of-town siblings. Help them understand the need for care and intervention, as they may not be able to detect or accept reality from afar.

• Draft a care plan – The plan should be a well-balanced with well-defined roles. Divide up tasks by family member. For instance, if one sibling works in health care, they could take on all of the medical appointments. Or the person with good business sense might handle legal issues and/or financial issues. Furthermore, much of this can be done from a distance and is a great tactic to keep siblings, who live far away, doing their fair share. They can also pay for services like home care or housekeeping services to help out. They could also host or come stay with mom every few months to take over and give others a break. Lastly, have everyone sign the plan to maintain accountability and keep everyone on task. That plan could also include placement options for further down the line when living at home is no longer safe or feasible.

• Utilize technology and outside resources – Fall-detection and home-monitoring and video systems can create and maintain a safer home environment to make caregiving more efficient and less time consuming. Also hired services, like non-medical home care, respite care, and adult day programs can help alleviate the burden of care between family members.

• Listen to each other and stay flexible – Maintain lines of communication. Appreciate everyone’s perspective along with their position and capacity of being a caregiver, and remember circumstances may change and alter the division of labor. And once again, don’t expect total equality. It’s very rare that caregiving roles can be divided equally.

• Remember why you’re doing it – Caregiving can be frustrating and contentious at times, especially if you feel that someone else is not doing their part. But ultimately, you must work together to take care of the person or persons that took care of you for all those years.

Finally, the Family Caregiver Allegiance states, “Try to separate your parent’s needs from your own–and yesterday’s battles from today’s decisions.”