I have become my mom's primary family caregiver. I've hinted that I need help, but my siblings don't understand how hard it is caring for an older adult.
Sadly, you’re not alone. Results from The National Family Caregiver’s Association’s annual survey show that three out of four primary family caregivers say they need more help caring for their parents.
It’s quite common for one person in the family to assume the caregiving role and not to share duties with siblings. Maybe it’s the oldest child, the child who lives closest to the parents or the one who doesn’t have children to care for. Perhaps it’s the son with the healthcare background or the daughter who has a flexible work schedule. Regardless, when it comes to caring for parents, primary family caregivers often start to believe that no one else is capable – and the person who needs the care often begins to feel that way too.
Maybe you resent having to ask for help. Shouldn’t other family members just "know" about mom's care plan and pitch in voluntarily? Sometimes it even seems like too much trouble to ask - by the time you explain everything, you might as well do the job yourself. And so the cycle begins and you start becoming worn out and resentful.
You need to take a more direct approach. Sending hints to your sister is not enough. She may not be picking them up because she genuinely believes you have everything under control. In the meantime, you’re seething inside and might start to feel angry at your mother. You have to break the caregiver stress cycle now.
Begin by sharing with your sister exactly what is involved in your mother's care plan. Most people don't realize how stressful
caregiving is until they've gone through it. Your sister can't do her fair share if she doesn’t see the whole picture.
Start by making a two-column list. On the left side, write down everything you do, whether it's making doctors' appointments, organizing medications, keeping up with insurance policies and other paperwork, paying bills, food shopping, helping with grooming (bathing, dressing), arranging for care, or driving to appointments. Next, on the right hand side of the list, identify all of the steps that you take to fulfill each task and the time it takes.
Once you have this list, sit down with your sister and talk about it. Remember, the objective is not to convey to her how much you do so she'll feel guilty. The goal is to share caregiving with siblings in a partnership dedicated to managing your mother's care.
Be creative. If your sister lives some distance away, try to come up with things she can do that don't involve being there. Perhaps she can take care of all of the insurance work, schedule doctor appointments, pay bills or research your mom’s medical conditions. If she lives nearby, could she set aside one day a week to relieve you as the primary family caregiver? If she can't, maybe she'd be willing to cover the cost of providing some assistance for that day. When it comes to gifts for your mom, suggest that your sister give gift certificates for home-delivered meals, cab rides or cleaning services - all of which would assist you as well.
Once you decide on a care plan
, make copies so both of you have it - and be sure to update it as your mother's needs change. To keep things going in a positive direction, set up a weekly phone conversation with your sister, during which you go over your mother’s care plan. That way your sister will feel more of a partner and remain very much aware of what’s involved on an everyday basis.
You need to begin to relate to your sister differently - as a partner - before she can start acting like one.