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When a Sibling Rivalry Interferes with Caregiving

How to avoid sibling rivalries when caring for aging parents
Siblings helping their aging parents prepare a meal

When you hear the term ‘sibling rivalry,’ the image that probably comes to mind is one of two young children duking it out so they can be or dad’s ‘favorite’ or gain their praise and attention. Although not as common of an occurrence, sibling rivalry does rear its head in adulthood, leaving middle-aged brothers and sisters fighting over their parents’ care and who will be responsible for what. Although some disagreements are to be expected, when sibling rivalries begin to interfere with care the issue should be addressed right away.

The Dangers of Sibling Rivalry in Caregiving

According to research presented by the AARP, many aging parents have a favorite child whom he or she wants to be the primary caregiver. This can be a source of pain for the ‘other children’ who want to help but don’t feel accepted or in control of decisions.

This was the case with the Browns, a family of an elderly mother and her three daughters. Even before she needed assistance with daily living, Ms. Brown was adamant that her youngest girl, June, be responsible for her care. Although she loved her mother dearly, June lived several hours away, making full-time caregiving impossible.

Jealous of the fact that her mother insisted June provide for her needs June’s older sister Claire reintroduced a sense of sibling rivalry that had been sitting dormant for years. Wanting children for but having none, Claire had given up on the thought of being a mother herself and instead poured her heart and soul into caring for her mom and dad as their independence and health waned. Now that June was in charge, Claire felt her sense of identity slipping away.

On the flip side, many siblings end up arguing, not because they want to take over total care, but because at least one party wants to avoid the responsibility of caring for an aging parent. When one child is doing all the work, and the others are fully focused on their own lives, it is easy for rivalry and resentment to build. The unfortunate and unintentional result: aging parents that are overly stressed, worried, and not focused on their health.

Combating Sibling Rivalry in Caregiving

However, this doesn’t have to be your family’s reality. There are several things that can be done to fight against sibling rivalry. The first being to talk about the problem. This can be difficult to do, especially in situations where emotions are high. Still, it’s necessary to talk things through in order to work out any issues.

The second key to combating sibling rivalry in caregiving is to respect and honor your parents’ wishes whenever possible. This is especially important since studies show that aging parents are more likely to become depressed if their preferred caregiver isn’t the one helping them age in place. Now, this doesn’t mean that every whim should be fulfilled, especially if the wants aren’t realistic.

A third tip is to make things as routine and streamlined as possible. If the primary or secondary caregiver must take a break from providing care or are unable to care for themselves, a tug-of-war isn’t necessary. This is especially true since temporary respite care is always a viable option. Respite care, provided by trusted caregivers, can provide the type of temporary care needed while also avoiding the family drama. So, when is this necessary, you might ask? The answer will differ from family to family. But in general, if resentment and arguments are present, respite care might be what is best. Having someone step in when tensions are high is often what is needed to make the situation whole again.

If you have questions about respite care and how it might benefit your family dynamic, the best way to get started is to contact us today for a free, no obligation in-home care consultation.

Trish Garbitt
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