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How to Talk With Your Siblings About Caregiving for Your Parents


"Based on your experience, what is the best way to divide the caregiver role among five children? While there is no issue in my family right now, I have heard and seen siblings fight over caring for their parents. We would like to avoid trouble if we can when taking care of ours. Do you have any thoughts on this?" - READER



It is a rare family that plans caregiving in advance of needing it, making you an incredibly thoughtful family. Your parents surely did something right when raising the five of you.

One of two situations occur in the caregiving world, and both have better outcomes when caregiving plans are coordinated as a group.

  1. The need for caregiving starts small and grows over time.
  2. There is a critical incident like a stroke that disables the parent and creates an immediate need for care services. 

Assuming that everyone is an adult, out of school and somewhat stable, you have a solid team. Now it's time to have an official group discussion. Going into this conversation, accept that some siblings live closer, some have more disposable income, some have more skills, and some have more time. Everyone will have different attributes, all having value. I recommend that you gather as a group and each of you write down independently what you believe you can comfortably contribute. Next, as a group, write out what assistance your parent will need. Then attempt to match the individual lists with the master list of needs. Make sure during this process that no one gets to play the martyr by taking on too much and no one is let off the hook with an abnormally light load. Those living out-of-town can use a vacation week to do project work, pay for lawn services, or whatever else you figure out. Get to a place where everyone feels they are contributing equally, given everybody's life circumstances.

I think it is important that you understand going into this that it is not always easy to share caregiving duties, and it is never perfectly fair. There will be times that individuals cannot perform their assigned tasks. One common example of this is siblings taking vacations. Just make sure that everyone participates and does as close to equal work as possible. During those times, have them trade duties with a sibling who returns the favor. You will all feel better about caregiving and each other if you each help carry the load.

Caregiving is a bit like a relay race. Everyone takes turns, and the combined outcome is better than if one person did everything on their own.

I wish you well on your journey together.


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