Caregiving is not usually something that a person does in isolation. In some cases a person is forced to do it without help from others, but that is usually not as effective and is almost never by choice. There is just too much to do. Usually other family members are involved or some assistance is obtained from public or professional resources.
Reliance on family can be good or bad depending upon your perspective and family dynamics. Several studies have found that one of the most stressful aspects of caring for an aging loved one is the interaction between siblings and other family members. When addressing the caregiving needs of your parents, there will likely be increased, and in some cases forced, interaction with siblings. It doesn’t always have to be that way. There are tools and techniques that might help you avoid some of the stress that can be associated with caregiving and the interaction with siblings (and other family members).
While every person has his or her own perspective on the events, you are all watching the same scenario. Perhaps you are all watching your father suffer the horrible effects of Alzheimer’s. He seems to be slowly slipping away right before your eyes. He is one of the people that helped take care of you and was a large part of the foundation of your reality—now he can’t take care of himself. This is usually traumatic on multiple levels for most people. The whole family is watching him decline, becoming more dependent, and struggle. As he becomes less caregiver and more care recipient, there is a shifting of roles. This will necessarily cause a shift in family structure. The shift may be difficult and emotionally unsettling. It may also release long-held feelings and tensions as the entire family struggles to adjust. Each one will navigate this emotional journey differently, and each sibling will not be in the same emotional place at the same time. You will have to be understanding and help each other get on the same page. The toughest part may be recognizing that he is not only your father, but he is also father to all of your siblings.
Even though you have the same parents and grew up in the same household, each of you has a different relationship with your parents. Expecting siblings to see, react, and respond in the same way to the parent that you know will likely lead to misunderstandings and heartache. When interacting with siblings, one of the more helpful things to do—for them and for yourself—is to take a step back and imagine their reality. This is more than just understanding their relationship with your father. It might mean understanding what is going on in their lives right now. What emotional triggers live beneath their reactions? How must they be feeling? If you were in their shoes, how would you react? Where are they coming from?
When you begins asking and answering these questions, you will find your relationships with siblings (and other relatives) improving and you are better able to focus on the main issue – providing the best possible care to your loved one. Good luck on your caregiving journey.
Derrick McDaniel is the Managing Director of Caring Hearts of New Jersey Home Care in South Orange.