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Distant Siblings Are Telling Me How to Care for Mom, yet I'm the Real Caregiver!

This is such a common complaint from caregiving children, that it was only a matter of time before I addressed the issue of distant siblings telling the caregiver how to care for the parent.  

Here is the scenario. 

The sibling who lives closest to the parent naturally becomes the one who takes on the role of errand runner, housekeeper, medication organizer, and the “everything-else-you-can-think-of-manager.”  This child is often times caring for their own family on top of that.  They may be managing two households, or their parent might be living with them. 

Now enter the sibling who moved 1,000 miles away.  This sibling loves mom also.  This sibling notices that the caregiving sibling does things a little differently than they might.  They speak their mind freely and resentment begins to set in for the caregiver.

When a distant sibling comes to town and sees how much mom has changed, they naturally go into somewhat of a panic.  For some reason we think our parents will not age, and we are always taken aback at what we see (we age also, but we still see our 30-year-old self in the mirror). Then they start questioning care, medical decisions, and daily activities.  Their lack of control often sparks some interesting behavior.

So, how do you get your well-meaning sibling from far away (or even nearby) to stop telling you how to care for your parent?  That is a tough one, because siblings rarely keep their thoughts and ideas to themselves.  It is the nature of siblings to tease, boss around and be overtly honest (and sometimes rude) with each other.  These are the people you grew up with, the people you turn to, the ones you love. Siblings are the ones who you wrestled with and fought with over what to watch on television.  You are older now, but that does not always mean siblings are any less bossy with each other.

Now if you are the caregiver doing all or most of the work, bossy outside input is usually unwanted.  In fact, you wish your sibling would pick up some of the load and, at a minimum, be quiet and grateful for the role you have taken.

Suggested ways to handle siblings who complain about your caregiving are:

  • When your sister suggests that mom is taking inappropriate medication because of something she read on the internet, while you have accompanied your mother to all of her appointments and see to it that she takes her medication. You may wish to share what you have done, and offer your sibling the opportunity to seek a second opinion by making and appointment with another physician and taking your mother.  Say it with all sincerity and kindness. Watch the tone here. Who knows, maybe a second opinion would be a good idea.  Do not take on more yourself or be resentful.  It is okay for the sibling to assume this responsibility and take your mother for an appointment.  If they need to come into town to accomplish, that is just fine.
  • Your father is telling the more distant siblings that you are not feeding him. (You actually are providing all of the food that he will eat).  Dad is a little bit confused and cannot remember when he last had a meal.  As odd as it seems, the sibling is likely to take him at face value and actually wonder if you are feeding him.  It is very hard not to be insulted when a sibling queries you about what you are feeding dad.   Rather than being affronted when asked, laugh and say that you are experiencing the same kind of comments.  Tell your sibling that it is difficult for you to hear dad say such things, but you are seeing this level of confusion ever-more frequently.  Suggest that dad visits the sibling for a month or so.  It would give you a much needed break, and they could observe firsthand what he is like.
  • Next we have the “executive” big brother.  He has a “BIG IMPORTANT JOB,” does nothing to care for parents, but feels because of his job he is in charge of how you care for mom. He has no problem telling you how things should be done. This sibling is used to being the boss and cannot seem to drop the role when not at work.   This brother likely feels a bit out of control in this situation.  He knows that he is not in charge, but he may not have a skillset for interaction with family members that do not report to him.  One way to deal with siblings that like control is with communication.  Provide them with a quick group email each week with how mom is doing including any medical updates.  Seek their input on a question.  In other words, engage them in planning and decision making.  It is hard to complain about care that you helped to decide on.  For siblings that never get the message and continue to provide unsolicited input, you may need to mention that the unsolicited advice is hurtful to you when you are doing all that you absolutely can.  You may wish to offer this individual the opportunity to care for mom full time.  Maybe they will be interested in sharing the load.

Being the primary care giver is the toughest of jobs.  If you are a sibling that lives out-of-town or unable to help as much as you would like to, do things for the caregiver to lighten the load.  Spell the caregiver for a vacation, send them a book, purchase some item that will make their life easier, and at minimum let the caregiver know you are grateful.