Dear Donna:

My mom has lived alone in an older house since my dad passed away almost three years ago. Her home is in a rural area of Michigan without any close neighbors. My brother, sister, and I all live about 20 minutes away from her.

Over the last two years, my mom’s health has started to decline. While I’m more than happy to help, most of the caregiver duties seem to fall to me. My siblings just haven’t stepped up to provide any support to our mom. I am the oldest child, but I’m no less busy with my own family and job than they are.

I’m starting to be very resentful of my siblings. I don’t even want to be around them or call them. I realize I need to take steps to fix this, but I’m not sure how. What can I do to get them to pitch in and help with our mom’s care?


Cindy in Saginaw, MI

Getting Siblings to Help Care for a Parent

Dear Cindy:

First, know that working together to manage a parent’s care can strain even the closest family relationships. In a study conducted by the AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, only 1 in 10 family caregivers say responsibilities are shared equally and without conflict among loved ones.

As you’ve discovered, one family member usually shoulders much of the burden, and it’s often the eldest daughter. What I usually suggest to primary caregivers is to identify, if possible, the reasons why siblings aren’t helping.

In many cases, loved ones don’t know how or where to start. Providing more structure and specific requests for help might be necessary. Other sources of friction we’ve witnessed are:

  • Differing opinions: Adult children don’t always see eye-to-eye on how much or what type of care a parent needs. In your situation, for example, your mother sounds like she might be an ideal fit for an assisted living community. Since you are the primary caregiver, this might not be a big surprise to you. But your siblings who don’t see her or help as much might not agree.
  • Emotional struggle: Watching your mom’s health decline is probably difficult for all of you. Some adult children may avoid visiting an aging parent because they can’t process what is happening. A sibling who is going through this may benefit from speaking with a mental health professional.
  • Disputes about money: Another source of feuds that occur when a senior loved one needs care is money. Adult children may disagree on how to spend—or not spend—a parent’s money. Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon for siblings to clash over spending money on professional senior care because of the impact on potential inheritance.

Some people feel unsure of where to start when it comes to caregiving. They often benefit from being given specific tasks or dates to provide assistance to an aging parent. If this is the case for your siblings, we have some suggestions for getting started.

Organizing Siblings to Help with Senior Care

Working with siblings to care for an aging parent takes a coordinated approach. Whether you are trying to find a new doctor for a senior loved one or deciding between two assisted living communities, it’s important to put aside your differences.

Here are a few suggestions to keep in mind as you all create a plan for your mom’s care:

  • Assign specific tasks: Create a list of tasks and appointments for which your mom needs help. Split them up evenly and put it in writing. Try to get your siblings to set a date for when general tasks (e.g., cleaning the gutters or stocking the freezer) will be completed.
  • Communicate regularly: Staying in close touch is essential for avoiding misunderstandings. It’s usually best to meet in person or by video chat instead of via text message.
  • Let it go: Don’t let resentment and old sibling rivalries keep you from doing what is in your parent’s best interest. Instead of hanging on to old wounds and slights, let it go. The added stress isn’t good for you or your parent.
  • Seek unbiased guidance: Unfortunately, some families reach an impasse and just can’t find ways to work together. This is where the guidance of an unbiased third party might help. It could be your mom’s rabbi or pastor. You might even want to turn to their physician or nurse practitioner for advice if the issue is deciding on care solutions. Finally, another option is to enlist the services of an aging life care professional.

I hope this information is useful to you, Cindy! Best of luck to you and your family.

Kind regards,