When Siblings Share Care

Siblings who share the care of a parent sounds like a great fairy tale, but the reality is, it is a challenge. My siblings and I shared the care of my mother until her death from ovarian cancer. The experience was rewarding, stressful, humorous, frustrating and downright life-consuming in an already busy world. But, cancer does not wait for a convenient time, and we needed to come together to care for our mother on life’s final journey.

Caring for a parent will look different for each family. The amount of care needed by the parent can vary; it may only be a few hours a day, or around the clock; it may needed for a short recovery, or an extended illness. These differences make each story unique. Regardless, there are components every family will have in common. The amount of time each sibling gives will depend on where he or she lives, if they work full-time, if they have young children, or even their relationship with their parent.

Good communication is essential when coordinating caregiving. Each sibling will most likely respond differently to the role of caregiver. Hurt feelings, feelings of inadequacy, misunderstandings and frustration about how much each sibling is doing, (“I sure wish Brad would let us know when he can’t make his shift with Mom.” or “I get so mad when Jill leaves the dirty dishes!”) are normal. Working together to “stay on the same page” while keeping a sense of humor (and tolerance!) is important. Here are a few suggestions to make the experience flow more smoothly:

  1. Use a calendar in the home to coordinate caregiving times and medical appointments.
  2. Determine how changes in the schedule will be communicated between the siblings. For example, it may be through email, text or phone calls.
  3. Create a place in the home for communication—a dry erase board on the fridge works great for ensuring the parent experiences consistent care, no matter who is there.
  4. Set some ground rules—agree who is going to do which chores during their caregiving time.
  5. Appreciate that sharing care can look different—one sibling may enjoy washing and styling hair, another may prefer to pay the bills and sort mail, another may like to go to medical appointments. Try to match each sibling with the things he or she enjoys.
  6. Expect disagreements and misunderstanding. Work through them by calmly discussing them before it all blows up!

Many times, we may joke about our children caring for us as we get older. The truth is, when your own parent needs you, it can be such a gradual process that you take on a caregiving role without ever really making a decision to do so or not. And, most likely, when it is all over and you look back at the time spent with your parent and siblings, you will smile and wish to have at least one of those days back again.

About Hospice of the Red River Valley
Hospice of the Red River Valley is an independent, not-for-profit hospice serving all, or portions of, 29 counties in North Dakota and Minnesota. Hospice care is intensive comfort care that alleviates pain and suffering, enhancing the quality of life for patients with life-limiting illnesses and their loved ones by addressing their medical, emotional, spiritual and grief needs. For more information, call toll free 800-237-4629, email questions@hrrv.org or visit www.hrrv.org.