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  • Writer's pictureKitty Edwards

Family Dynamics

Caring for your parents can be a challenge. Dealing with your siblings while caring for your parents can be surprisingly difficult as well.

Oh, brother. Do I know that. Because I've been there too.

My family has always been close. I grew up within blocks of all my cousins. The extended family gathered for holidays and special occasions. When my parents moved away from our traditional home in Birmingham, Alabama, our immediate family regrouped in New Mexico.

My brothers lived close enough to my parents and each other, so that when they started their own families, their children would have an extended family of cousins, aunts, uncles and grandparents.

Living in Colorado I was the outlier, but my husband and I flew in for holidays, birthdays and special events.

In 2002, Mom was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and Dad was in his 11th year of struggling with Parkinson’s. Mom and Dad called us all in for a family meeting. They wanted to talk about options.

They put it all on the table – treatments, no treatments, and various end-of-life choices and expectations for us to follow.

For the next three years, the four of us and our partners became caregivers.

We divvied up duties based on location and skill set. From a distance, I organized finances, aides and equipment. Bruce was in charge of groceries and medications. Peter provided transportation and oversaw insurance claims. Wyman built ramps and remodeled rooms as needed. We also negotiated attending doctor appointments and hospital overnights based on availability.

Each of us approached caregiving and life with different mindsets.

Bruce, the oldest, would always want time to think about things. He would say, “Let’s wait.”

I wanted to get out ahead of problems even if those problems never manifested. My approach was, “Just in case.”

Peter was more philosophical. He challenged us by questioning, “Is it right?”

Wyman, the youngest, wanted to “keep it light.”

Our different approaches caused conflict at times.

In the last few months of his life, Dad had difficulty breathing, which brought him great anxiety. The medical orders were to give him Lorazepam when he requested it to lower his anxiety and allow him to fall asleep.

The hospice doctor suggested a regularly scheduled dose to prevent anxiety all together. While I thought this was a great solution, Peter was adamantly opposed to this approach. So, we, as a family, decided to stay the course and only give Lorazepam on request.

I was not happy with this decision, but I had to learn to shake it off in order to continue to work together without anger or resentment.

I learned so much about myself and my brothers during this precious experience. And over time I learned to value the wisdom and unique approaches we each brought to the task of caregiving.

Shake It Off Ritual

It's important to release emotions that aren’t serving you. One way is to shake it off like the animals do.

10 Tips to Enhance Sibling Connection While Caring for Aging Parents

Caring for an aging or ill parent can bring out the worst in sibling relationships.

Multiple opinions and personalities mixed in with past wounds, old family dynamics, and unequal contributions can result in heated disagreements and even estrangements.

However, there are ways to keep you more conscious, connected and hopefully, conflict free.

  1. Keep open communication with updates and decisions.

  2. Ask for help if you are a primary caregiver.

  3. Find ways to help even if you aren’t local.

  4. Avoid falling back into the roles you had as kids.

  5. Understand that each of you may have a different relationship with your parent.

  6. Recognize that each may want more or less involvement in the caregiving process.

  7. Accept different opinions and try to compromise.

  8. Know that you might be in a different place of denial or acceptance from your sibling(s).

  9. Discuss end-of-life care despite any difficulties in doing so.

  10. Consider using a mediator to facilitate challenging discussions.

Finally, be careful not to let one less-than-perfect experience ruin future interactions.

Remember to “shake it off,” and try again.


Managing Family Dynamics (online resource)

Caring for Mom and Dad (PBS Documentary)


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