S is for siblings.
I have seen so many families over the years. Sometimes it breaks my heart as I see a wife struggling to care for her elderly husband, and watch her pain as he deteriorates. I am moved when I see a couple who has been married for 73 years, sitting on the bed together and leaning toward each other. Sometimes there is a nephew who is at a loss, wondering how to help his cranky aunt, or a son whose life revolves around his ailing mother. There are so many variations on families.
Then there are siblings.
Sometimes they all work together and agree on mother's care. But not usually.
Here are some variations I've seen:
- There is often one sister who does most of the work. She resents the others.
- Daughters often count the pennies and sons usually say, "Get her whatever she needs." Daughters resent sons who say that.
- Sometimes, there is a "daughter from Florida"--one who lives out of town and flies in, seeing something wrong everywhere and wanting to change everything. Then she flies out.
- In a group of siblings, someone is often in denial. They are sure it's not as bad as the others say.
- Mothers are very good at pushing their daughter's buttons. It doesn't usually go the other way when mothers are elderly.
- I have seen sons who dote on their mothers, and at least one who pretty much ignores her.
One thing is universally true. If there were problems in the family before siblings became care partners, the problems will get bigger and more difficult after. Families who have coped with their differences by staying out of each other's lives, can no longer do so. They have to talk and make decisions and they probably don't agree.
How do you handle this?
There are no perfect answers. Here are a few suggestions that might help.
1. Communicate. Everyone (at least everyone involved in decision making) needs to know everything. There is no quicker way to cause dissent than to leave someone out of the loop, of for everyone only to have part of the information. This is much easier with email. Also, if things are written down and sent to everyone, no one can say they didn't know.
2. Communicate. Didn't I just say that? Sometimes it's important for everyone to get together to make an important decision. Make sure everyone is heard, and keep notes of opinions. Weigh the options and work hard at being civil, no matter how strongly you feel. It may be necessary to lay some ground rules before you start.
3. Communicate. (Am I getting my point across?) When you are discussing important topics about your parent's care, leave yesterday's battles behind. Focus only on the issue at hand. Drop words like "you always" and "You never" from your vocabulary.
4. Communicate. Where have I heard that before? Think about what you want from your siblings. Is it emotional support? Physical help taking Mom to doctor's appointments? Financial help with some of the bills? Put together a reasonable list, and then talk about it.
5. Communicate. Last time...If there's been years and years of dysfunction in your relationship with your siblings, you may need the support of professional help. Talk to someone who can support you
and give you some tools to deal with the many issues that are going arise.
Siblings can be wonderful. Best friends. Or not. Whatever your relationship with your siblings, being a care partner is going to put a strain on it. So--communicate!