Are you overwhelmed with the challenge of caring for your aging parents while raising a family while your younger brother Joe, who happens to be single, hasn’t offered to help?
Well, you’re not alone, and here’s why.
Cultural norms have lead to the expectation that women should shoulder the majority of caregiving responsibilities. For example, 2 out of every 3 caregivers are female, and caregiving is still largely considered “women’s work”. If you grew up in a family like mine, then the daughters are likely depended upon to assist with bathing, dressing, or toileting aging parents, while the sons are handling finances (and maybe odds and ends around the house).
Similarly, women are typically expected to call in sick or take time from work to care for an aging parent, while their male siblings may find it more challenging to request time off from work to care for their parents.
I’m one of four children… I have one sister and two brothers. Since I’m the only licensed health care provider among my siblings, I’ve been the primary caretaker and advocate for our aging parents.
So as you might expect, over the last few years, my sister and I have shared the role of hands-on personal caretaker for our mother while she struggles with a long journey through dementia. My older brother keeps up with the weekly grocery shopping, pays the bills, and takes care of the ever-increasing financial issues that arise when taking care of an aging parent.
I bet it comes as no surprise to you that my client’s children often complain to me about the huge difference in the caregiving responsibilities between female and male siblings.
Since it often ends up causing significant frustrations between family members, I’ve determined a few things to consider when planning your parents care with your brothers and sisters.
Here are a few of my best suggestions:
Have a family meeting: Consider having a family meeting to discuss your parent’s needs and how each member can contribute. If needed bring in an objective professional to help to run the meeting such as a health advocate, therapist, social worker, or someone from your church.
Determine who will handle what depending on their strengths: Everyone in the family can be helpful in caring for aging adults. Identify each sibling’s strength and utilize their special skills and talents. Consider this: just because you were labeled the “responsible” one in the family doesn’t mean you need to shoulder most of the burden of caregiving, even if that’s the expectation of your siblings. Similarly, if you have a sibling that was viewed as less capable of helping as a kid, you won’t get much help from them until you change your expectations and approach them with their strengths in mind.
Make everyone accountable: Be direct and specific about what type of help you need from your siblings. But also be realistic about what the sibling can give based on their family and personal responsibilities.
Limit arguments by following plans: Accept siblings for who they are. Getting angry with your brothers and sisters or making them feel guilty that they aren’t helping doesn’t really work. It will likely just cause withdrawal and frustration.
Keep your eyes on the prize: Don’t expect that caregiving responsibilities will be equal or fair. Your siblings may be willing help in some way, but it is best to accept that it may not be the same level of help. Having everyone involved in some way should be enough!
So, don’t bear all of the responsibility, because you don’t have to! Consult a healthcare advocate to help with the best plan to get your family members involved.
Bringing in an experienced health advocate can help you reduce your caregiving responsibilities and create a plan to help you get all of your family members involved. As a daughter and advocate for my parents and many others, I know first hand the struggles and rewards of helping a parent as they age — and I’d love to talk with you!