Today it's increasingly likely that within many families there are those who need additional care and support. In an ideal world perhaps, these caring responsibilities would be split equally between family members and the teamwork that it takes to ensure ongoing consistent care would be seamless.
However, the reality is that most of the responsibilities fall to one primary caregiver. This could be because one person lives the nearest, appears to have the most available time, is best at organising or is simply the sibling that worries the most.
Whether taking on the role was through choice or circumstance, it's natural for it to be accompanied by feelings of resentment between the primary caregiver and the rest of the family from time to time. To minimise frustration and animosity, we've compiled some tips to help you and your family share the caring responsibilities so that all the work doesn't fall to one person. In writing, we've used as our examples a group of siblings who are sharing the responsibilities, but the same guidance applies whatever the actual group relationship.
One of the first steps towards shared responsibilities is setting up a recurring meeting between all siblings. This doesn't have to be an in-person meeting - a quick check-in via FaceTime or Zoom once a month will do. During these meetings, you and your siblings can discuss upcoming plans, decide who can help with any new responsibilities that arise, discuss what is and isn't working with the current care plan, share notes and support one another.
Be mindful to include your parent in as many plans and important conversations as possible. Not only is it important for them to have a say in decision-making but they also need to know what to expect and from whom.
Family conversations and debates can be contentious at the best of times. When it comes to discussing the health and wellbeing of an ageing parent, expect different opinions, concerns and coping strategies to arise. It's helpful to treat these discussions democratically - letting everyone's voice be heard and put any personal feelings aside in favour of what is best for your parent. If ever you can't agree on a strategy, perhaps you can include a third-party professional to help guide you. If necessary, you can put some decisions to the vote.
Talking about a plan is one thing but putting it into motion is another. Creating a shared schedule that everyone has access to is a great way to map out all the daily/weekly responsibilities required. This way, there can be no confusion as to who is responsible for what. A calendar like this is also a good way for everyone to have an overview of how each sibling is contributing to the workload.
You may want to consider sharing this calendar with your parent - even if it's a printed-out version of the schedule stuck on the fridge. This could help them with their own day-to-day planning.
It's important to understand and accept that to a degree, caring responsibilities amongst siblings won't always be 100% fair. Each sibling has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, as well as practical differences in lifestyles. When divvying up caring responsibilities, these factors should be considered. For example, if only one sibling lives near to the elder parent, then many - if not all - of the day to day in-person responsibilities will fall to them. However, the other siblings can still help with activities such as paperwork and admin, online grocery orders, regular visits and emotional support.
Caring for a loved one isn't always easy, but it's comforting to know that you're not alone - and who better to understand your situation than your siblings? Though there may sometimes be misunderstandings, disagreements and frustrations, your siblings can also be a wonderful source of support and emotional relief. Try to inspire and maintain a dynamic where you can motivate and encourage one another, even when the going gets tough. Remember that you're a team and that at the end of the day, your beloved parent is at the heart of all your efforts.
Despite even the best made plans, life happens, and things change. When they do, it's helpful for everyone on your caring team to be as flexible as possible - this forms part of the support system you've got going. Be prepared to step in for a sister who must work late at the last minute, or a brother who's man down with flu. Likewise, if you have an unexpected situation that needs to be dealt with, you should be able to lean on your siblings to cover your caring responsibility.
As you get further down the caring journey, you may also need to adapt to your ageing parent's needs as they evolve. This might look like an extra doctor's appointment each month, a change in medication and/or dietary requirements, or extra help around the house. Thinking back to Tip 1, having those ongoing, regular conversations between you and your siblings will help you all to adapt and care for each other as well as for your elderly loved one.
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