Sibling issues is one of the toughest aspects to caregiving.
Yet, so many, many families are torn apart because of the conflicts caregiving brings.
If you’re the primary caregiver, you may feel resentment toward your “free” sibling who works, goes to movies, take vacations.
If you’re the “other” sibling, you feel guilty. You don’t know where you fit in. You’re uncomfortable speaking up and voicing your opinion because after all, you’re not the one doing all the work–and you’re reminded of that often.
If you’re the third sibling, well, you might as well be in the outer Netherlands. That’s might be how it feels. All those childhood birth order issues get kicked right back up.
Solutions? Sometimes, certain caregiving duties can divvied up–one can handle the “books,” and stay current on medicare, insurance issues, etc. One sibling can be in charge of the household–hiring help, upkeep, etc., One sometimes cares for mom or dad during the week while another sibling works and they take the weekend. It varies. Conflicts can still arise, but at least this type of family arrangement attempts to allow everyone to participate.
Many times, a sibling just won’t participate. Sometimes they will barely call.
What do you do? Get mad? Call and chew them out?
I prefer mock calls–I pretend to call people while I’m driving and I say everything I need to say. I even imagine their responses and argue with them. I’m not kidding. I really do this, and honestly, it helps. Life coaches and counselors highly recommend this.
The sad fact is that you can’t make someone do something they don’t want to do.
You can tell your sibling that they’re a part of a family and that they should participate on some level.
You can tell them it’s a matter of personal integrity, and they’ll feel better about themselves if they do.
You can tell them that their choice not to participate greatly effects your relationship with them and who do they think will care for them when they’re older if they don’t give and realize they’re a part of a bigger picture?
I know many siblings who have done all these things–and more. Still, nothing. The hurts and resentments build. I know siblings who haven’t spoken since their parent died. I know siblings who have since passed away–with this still unresolved.
A great movie that portrays sibling issues and caregiving is Marvin’s Roomwith Diane Keaton and Merryl Streep. Most people don’t know it was a Broadway play first. If you think your family is dysfunctional, wait until you see theirs!
How should families handle these delicate issues?
Each sibling should state what they want or need from the other.
Be clear. Be specific. “I need you to pay for a house cleaner.”
Listen to one another. Compromise.
If you’re the primary caregiver, realize you’re probably too bossy. It comes with the territory. Allow others participate. If you think you are, ask them–you might be surprised at what they say.
Realize you probably won’t get everything you’re asking for.
Let go of the resentment. You are only responsible for your choices, your actions.
Pent-up anger, guilt, and resentment are a recipe for a heart attack and other illnesses. Don’t let it fester. It’s not worth it.
See it as their loss. Caregiving teaches so much, and they’re missing out on valuable life lessons.
Wish them well. We get more than one chance at things. I know siblings who chose not to or couldn’t participate as they’d like to with one parent, but did more for the next parent, or a sibling, or for a neighbor. Life is not tit-for-tat.
Realize that while we all can be selfish, most people are downright afraid to be around illness and death. Fear is a bigger driving force than we realize.
Try not to fix things. Let your sibling have as little relationship or as much with your parent/care receiver as they choose.
Stay with you. You’re not perfect either (meaning me, here) and your might actually be impeding your sibling’s relationship because you “like” being the good child.
If you’re not the primary caregiver, still speak up. Sometimes life just turns out that way. It doesn’t mean you don’t care. Don’t be pushed out. Find ways to fit in–speak up. Primary caregivers can get into uber-mode, become impatient, and controlling (I know because I was one!) You matter. You need to fit in. You need closure, too. They’re your parents too. Risk a fight. It won’t be the first one you’ve had with your sibling, is it? Trust your relationship is strong enough to take it. I bet it is.
Realize families are resilient. You can bounce back from disagreements. You can get really mad and make up. It’s okay if things got out of control for a while. You can get back to being that loving, engaged, supportive family you know that you are.
Life is messy. Relationships are hard. Give everyone a little mercy at the end. You might need your siblings in years to come. After your parents leave this world, they’re often the only family you have. I doubt they’re “all bad.” Stress can bring out the worst in people.
My hope is that your family can come to a place of wholeness.
Most people I know aren’t bad. They’re scared. Awkward. Overwhelmed.
It’s hard to figure out how to get back to an easy place sometimes.
If you’re the one reading this, consider it fate. Choose to be a bridge.