Providing care for an aging or ill parent can bring out the best and the worst in sibling relationships. Ideally, the experience of caregiving is a time for siblings to come together and provide mutual support to one another. As a stressful transition, however, the pressure can also lead to strained connections and painful conflict.
One major source of sibling friction is the legacy of family dynamics. Invariably, the demands of caregiving bring out old patterns and unresolved tensions. Past wounds are reopened, and childhood rivalries reemerge. It is not unusual for adult children to find themselves replaying their historical roles in the family, re-creating old dynamics of competition and resentment as they vie for Mom’s attention and affection. Another conflict can arise when one sibling is in denial over a parent’s condition. Adult children who seem unable to accept the reality of a parent’s illness and refuse involvement may be protecting themselves from facing a parent’s eventual death and their own loss. More-active siblings may react with bitterness and anger.
Most often though, discord surfaces from the unequal division of caregiving duties. Generally, one sibling takes on the primary role of caring for a loved one. This may be because he or she lives closest to a parent, is perceived as having less work or fewer family obligations, or is considered the “favorite” child. Regardless of the reasons, this situation can lead the overburdened caregiver to feel frustrated and resentful and other siblings to feel uninformed and left out.
Resolving these conflicts can be challenging. But ignoring the difficulties in a caregiving situation can create greater challenges. Ultimately, strained family relationships can impede a family’s capacity to provide the greatest quality of care to a parent.
Try to forgive family members who continue to refuse to get involved in a loved one’s care. The only thing we have control over in a situation is our reaction. Attempt to work through your negative emotions to take care of yourself and move forward.
For more information call the Family Caregiver Alliance at (800) 445-8106.
© 2008 Family Caregiver Alliance. Copy used with permission. Established in 1977, the Family Caregiver Alliance’s pioneering programs support and sustain the important work of families and friends caring for loved ones with chronic, disabling health conditions. The National Center on Caregiving at Family Caregiver Alliance was established in 2001 to advance the development of high-quality, cost-effective programs and policies for caregivers in every state in the country. Visit www.caregiver.org or call (800) 445-8106 for more information.