How To Talk To Your Siblings About Your Aging Parents

Eldercare is challenging enough on its own. Then throw in family dynamics and the complexity increases. Unequal distribution of work. Multiple and conflicting opinions. Varying degrees of skill and compassion. Siblings, and in-laws and long lost relatives, oh my! To help you navigate this new level of family dysfunction, here’s some advice on how to talk to your siblings about your aging parents – seven steps to be exact.

1. Inquire. The first step in talking to your sibling about your aging parents is to ask them what they think. “Do you think we should we talk about Mom?” “Do you think Dad’s doing okay on his own?” Inquire as to what they are thinking and observing. This simple first step will give you a sense of whether or not they are starting to notice or think about what you are noticing and worrying about.

2. Assess. Based on your sibling’s response, you can assess whether or not you are aligned in your observations and ideas or if you are seeing totally different things. Maybe you think your mother’s memory is failing and your brother thinks forgetfulness in old age is no big deal. Or maybe you think your father is unable to manage his household on his own but your sister thinks he is just fine at home. It’s okay if you see things differently. You don’t need alignment to move forward; you just need to know where others stand.

3. Accept. Once you assess your siblings’ points of view, accept them. Caregiving is no time for magical thinking. If you and your brother have never seen eye to eye, this is not the time to expect you will start. If your sister has always been disorganized, this is no time to think her executive functioning skills will improve. If you think your parents need more care and your siblings don’t agree, accept that perspective and decide how you are going to move forward. Control what you can control. You can’t get your sister to do something she doesn’t want to do or doesn’t deem necessary. And you don’t want to waster your energy trying. Much better to determine how you will proceed given the information you have.

4. Assign. If your siblings are willing to help – based on steps 1 and 2, assign the tasks that need to be done. Keep step 3 in mind when making assignments. We all have different strengths and weaknesses. We also all have different levels of responsibility we are willing to take on. If your sister has filed bankruptcy, don’t have her take over your parents’ finances. If your brother lives 2,000 miles way, don’t make him the healthcare proxy.

5. Lower your standards. If you are one of the lucky ones, a caregiving adult child whose siblings want to help in supporting your aging parents, then make sure you make it possible. You cannot expect that your sister will handle things the same way you might. That’s okay! As long as your parents’ needs are being met – and no one is being hurt, or abused, or stressed out, then lower your standards and let your siblings handle their assignments in their way. Done is done. And good enough is good enough.

6. Ask. If you want help from your siblings, the simple thing to do is ask them for help. “Wait, what? I took the steps above. I have to ask again?” Sometimes, yes. Sometimes people forget. Or get distracted. Or their lives go haywire. Or they get bored. So what. Now what? Now you have to ask again. No drama. No storytelling. Just ask. And repeat steps 2 through 4.

7. Call the pros. “But what if I tried all that and things are still just so complicated?” Maybe you’re fighting or maybe there is significant inheritance issues complicating things. Maybe your parents are playing you and your sister against each other. Families are complicated. So maybe it’s time to get some professional help. Family mediators, Geriatric care managers and elder law attorneys are all skilled in working with dynamic family situations. If you can’t go it alone, don’t go it alone.

And for more on siblings and aging parents, check out The Truth About Siblings and Caregiving.

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7 comments on “How To Talk To Your Siblings About Your Aging Parents”

    • Anita Reply

      In my case is a bit different, I am the oldest of six kids, one of my brothers died some years back, I have two sisters and two brothers , all married except me, my mom had a stroke three years ago and we wr planning on all taking care of her, by all I mean those who still live with mom, you see my parents devorce some years back, so my brother and his wife with thr son , my daughter and myself live with my mom. It’s a big house .. so between the four of us we wr going to take care of her, but at the hospital she told me she wanted my sister in law to look after her, ok I didn’t mind , I had move into her room to be thr at night for when she need it my help, but she had my sister in law tell me to get out of her room 🥲 I felt hurt, but my mom had been this way towards me all the time. So I moved out. Next she told my brother to kick me and my daughter out, so he did. Why???? Because my brother never liked my daughter so I am thinking he told her he didn’t want my daughter at the house… And after she return to the house, she wanted my daughter to go over the house to help take care of my mom…this time I told my daughter no. You see this has been happening for ever. My mom putting others before me..and I would just never say a word…but now that I out my foot down .i am conceder a bitch….my mom had open a restaurant when I was 19. I was the only one helping her. And yet my other sister was her favorite. And now she tells her friends that her kids never helped her…so when she mention she wanted my sister in law to look after her. I was not surprised. The only thing is now she and my sister in law tell people that none of her kids help out with my mom.they don’t say the truth….

      • admin Reply

        You know the truth – as long as you have a clear head and open heart, what others say doesn’t matter.

  1. Michaela Kirby Reply

    My 80 yr old dad has been in hospital three weeks and my brother has only visited twice – his wife and 16yr old daughter have never visited. My dad isn’t eating and drinking much and it falls to my one visit each day. How can I stop feeling so angry. It always been like this

  2. Jennifer Harris Reply

    I have come to hate both my sisters one is older and uses me to do everything because she works and I’ve taken mom all dr appt. , clean , do laundry, do her hair , nails, take dog to the vet , shopping breakfast, lunch and dinner which is spilt between me and older sister but she lived with her three years was sick all the time and 87lbs now 3 years later lives alone and back to 104 lbs onelives out of town and does nothing visits maybe 3x a year a couple of days, and I am sick of them the way they use me and take Advantage of me. Older one has name on her house and bank account and has been out if town 9x this year and doesn’t worry about me having help I’m ready to get an attorney as far as I’m concerted they are both negligent and do as they please and thre older one is waiting to get everything and has showed her true colors sneaky and spiteful doesn’t like to be questioned about anything because she never had to before and I am sick of it ready to quit and disappear because I hate her and having to talk to her everyday

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