Handling the needs of an aging parent is a task that requires teamwork, understanding, communication and cooperation among the senior’s grown children. The stress that comes with the situation can be overwhelming, making it difficult to get things done and work together. Conflict over many different issues—what kind of care is needed, who will do what, etc…—is common. But there are steps siblings can take to make this task easier.
First, conduct a group meeting with all siblings and any other affected parties. The meeting will give the opportunity to lay out the issues at hand, brainstorm solutions, and establish individual roles for each person. Come to an agreement on an agenda in advance and remember to take notes. Keep focused on the aging parent’s needs and wants. Try to find the best possible avenue for obtaining these things and assign tasks to each caregiver.
Be sure to establish roles among family members early in the process. These aren’t set in stone: it’s possible to redistribute roles later. It’s common for one sibling to become the primary caregiver. This can occur for many reasons, including living in an area close to mom or dad and having available time and resources. Unless siblings agree to this arrangement in advance, this can cause resentment, misunderstanding, and frustration.
Not every caregiver is going to have an equal responsibility. Acknowledge individual strengths and weaknesses and assign duties accordingly. Discuss what each person is willing and capable of doing.
Family crises can resurface old grudges and create resentments. Siblings can avoid this by setting up discussion rules. If possible, have regularly scheduled meetings with all caregivers, perhaps once a month or once a year, where everyone can discuss issues and concerns. Remember that working as a team is more productive and less hassle than working against each other. The aging parent and their needs are the primary focus, not settling family debates.
If arguments continue to block progress, seek out information on elder mediators. Mediators are third-person professionals who can handle sensitive family debates on aging parents in a fair, honest way.
It is essential to involve family members who appear to be in denial or unwilling to participate. Their assistance will help keep the amount of work from burdening the other caregivers and keep resentment at bay. The easiest way to get a family member involved is to ask them to do a specific task that is within their means. It is possible that this particular family member does not know how to help and is withdrawing because they aren’t sure what responsibilities they should take on.
If there is no progress on persuading the family member to contribute, continue trying by sending e-mails or letters and making phone calls. Share medical records revealing the reality of the aging parent’s health and the list of tasks that need to be completed. If denial continues to be an issue, involve a third party. This could be a doctor, a family friend, or a mediator. Keep trying, if not for the benefit of an extra helping hand, then to involve this sibling in the limited time left with the aging parent.
Managing the affairs of a dying parent is not an easy feat. To help things go smoothly and to keep family members on friendly terms, be proactive in maintaining the peace.