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My Siblings Don't Know How to Interact With Mom



"How do I get my brothers and sisters to engage with our mom?

My siblings seem to be clueless when it comes to how to spend time with Mom. She’s in her late 80s and has mild dementia. When they go to visit her at the assisted living facility, they simply sit there and stare at her, or their phones. They have no idea how to engage.

Truth be told, I live in the area and am more familiar with Mom. I have also spent more time with her over the last couple of years as she was in mild decline. 

What is the solution to getting my siblings to do more with her? Mom does not seem to enjoy their visits like she could. When I see how they interact with her, I am so disappointed."



It’s unfortunate for your mother that your siblings don’t know how to connect with her. It’s almost always a lack of familiarity with her physical state combined with a lack of imagination.

I have article recommendations for them, but I find that most adults do not like to be told what to read. If they haven’t already done some research, you telling them to do some is not likely to help.

It seems you’ve had the luxury of being around your mother over time. You either had formal training or learned through trial and error the best ways to interact with her. It’s no surprise you outshine the siblings in the mom department when it comes to meaningful interaction. 

What would be helpful for you to recognize is that they likely feel inadequate when it comes to her mild dementia. If your mother tells the same story or asks the same questions over and over, they may not know how to respond. Sometimes it’s easier to withdraw than it is to respond in a meaningful way. There is also the possibility that you intimidate them with the appropriate response, so they let you take over. 

No adult likes to feel inadequate, so withdrawal is a common response. The answer here is to provide guidance without becoming a showoff or a know-it-all. Encourage engagement with mom, avoid criticizing them for misses, and demonstrate interaction by doing. Most important is that you do not make your siblings feel like you are the only one who has a clue, whether it’s true or not. Each of them can discover their own way of spending time with your mother if given the chance.

The next time your siblings plan to visit her, make a simple suggestion of one activity and then withdraw. Give them an opportunity to have success with your mother.

There’s no guarantee they can match your skill level here. It is possible, though, for you to help your siblings feel more comfortable, and that is the goal. I wish you gradual success.


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