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Caregiver (Sibling) Rivalry

caregiver-rivalryRaise your hand if you ever had a disagreement with a brother or sister as you were growing up.  It may sound like an odd question, but it highlights of the “iron rules” of family dynamics that I have seen in my years as a certified geriatric care manager.  Most families tend to play out a lot of the family dynamics that had characterized them during the formative years of the family.  They simply are older now that they were when mom and dad were raising them as children.  We also still find that caregiving to mom or dad as they age generally falls to the daughter in the family and not the son.  According to sources woman (daughters) caregivers outnumber men (sons) about two to one.  SO what can one do to manage the family dynamics so that the caregiving actually is productive instead of combative.

In part because caregiving can be demanding and stressful, it can bring out some of the family’s old tensions or unresolved issues.  Some siblings may be the optimists and others the pessimists, but quite often the tension that already exists is exacerbated because the duties are not seen to be shared equitably.  Here are some guidelines that can help to diffuse a tense predicament and hopefully move things to a more productive plane:

  • Make it a point to appreciate all points of view, and be open to compromise; as I often say, “Would you rather be right or happy?”Recognize that not all siblings can contribute equally; everyone comes from a different place with different abilities and different constraints.
  • Don’t forget “please” and don’t forget “thank you;” show appreciation for everyone’s contribution to caring for mom or dad.Make it a point to share all the information; if one of the siblings does not know their help or input is needed, it is not going to be forthcoming.
  • Remember to frame your suggestions and actions around what mom or dad would have wanted, not what you specifically may want.
  • You may not be required to “forget” a perceived wrong from a sibling, but you do have to “forgive” the slight so that you all can move forward.
  • If you are the caregiver who is not getting sufficient help from the siblings, you still need to find professional (or otherwise) respite care.
  • Be open to seeing when you need to call in help just to work together as siblings; seek the facilitation of a therapists, counselor, social worker other third party.
  • Remember one of my other iron rules, and that is “Care for the Caregiver;”  you cannot be an effective caregiver if you are not caring for yourself.

This may seem like a lot, but productive resolutions of issues will in the end be better for your older loved ones.  The lessons you learn in working through your sibling tensions also can be tremendously illuminating as you look to prepare your own children for roles that they will one day face.

Charlotte Bishop is a certified Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Care Management, professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to


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