Dear Mary
My sister won’t help or listen.

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Dear Mary,

My sister is driving me crazy.  Our parents are getting older and needing more help.  My sister does not seem to think that it is her job to help out and she actually does not believe that they need help.  We have never been close and she thinks I can do it all.  Well, I can’t.  I can’t even talk with her about anything to do with caring for our parents.  I am frustrated and don’t know how to proceed.

Andrea

Hi Andrea:

The fact that you have not had a good history with your sister, will only make this caregiving time harder for both of you.  Caregiving is difficult at the best of times, with the best of communication.  Here are some of the most common issues and ways to resolve issues that may help you.

Issues:

  • Caregiving Duties:  Should we do it all ourselves, divide up the work, hire outside help?  Who will do what and when?  Who is going to be the primary caregiver and for how long?
  • Living arrangements:  Should Mom stay where she is and could we hire live-in help for her?  Is staying at home unsafe, too isolating and unrealistic?  Could a parent live with you?  Is it time to look at a senior’s facility?
  • Disparities and inequities:  Are the siblings equally contributing and pulling their weight?  Are they equally spending the same amount of time, money, energy?  What if you are the only one who lives locally to your parent?  How can the others pitch in?
  • Finances and money:  How much money do your parents actually have?  Who pays for what if the parents don’t have enough money to support their needs?  Who decides how money will be spent?
  • Medical decisions:  Who is legally named in POA documents to decide care issues?  What happens if these documents are not already in place?
  • Family treasures:  Who gets what when a parent either downsizes or dies?

Avoiding conflict:

I suggest that you take action to avoid conflicts and improve communication and cooperation between you and your sister.  Here are a couple of ideas to consider:

  • Be clear about your needs.  If you don’t tell people what you want, don’t expect them to guess correctly.
  • If possible, include your parents in conversations about their care and their futures.  It is a point of respect and helping to ensure their dignity.
  • Divide responsibilities by skill.  If you have a strength in managing money, than that is the role best suited for you. On the other hand, if you think you have the temperament and patience to be the primary caregiver, than perhaps that is the role for you.  If you lead with your skills, it is more likely you will enjoy your role, add value and be proud of your efforts.
  • Bite your tongue.   Not everyone will handle a situation exactly as you would.  Everyone does things differently.  Doing things differently, does not mean that things are done incorrectly.   Unless there are real safety issues, keep your opinions to yourself.
  • Keep the communication coming:  Now with many social media sites and great long distance phone plans, staying connected has never been easier or cheaper.  The more you share, the less frustration about roles and responsibilities you will experience.
  • Seemingly impossible issues to resolve:  Often it is best to take a break from fighting over the same issues.  Back off for a while, take a break and then re-group.  If you have gone too far, apologize.
  • Get professional help.  There are lawyers, accountants, social workers and care managers that can help you work through many of the issues around caring for aging parents.
  • Some things never change and rarely do people change.  If your sibling has always been unable to change and adopt, than just accept it and move on.  I love the expression:  “Lead, follow or get out of the way”.  Perfect for caregiving.
  • Show some compassion:  Caregiving is very stressful.  Try to be understanding of your sister and what is happening in her own world.  A hug goes a long way to helping communications.

Good luck with trying to work with your sister.  I hope some of my ideas are helpful.

Mary

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Caregiving Matters

Mary is a daughter. She also Chairs our charity. Mary has also held Director roles on three other boards, most recently with The Palcare Network of York Region.

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