Sibling Rivalry and Caregiving

The article Getting Along to Care for Mom by Barry J. JacobsAARP, really hit home in our household. 

https://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-07-2013/family-siblings-aging-parents-jacobs.html

My husband and I were caregivers for his mother for seven years when she moved from Florida to our community in Pennsylvania and later into our home. Because I had had a historically good relationship with my husband’s family, I never anticipated that caregiving would weaken the rapport we had developed for over 40+ years.

Barry Jacobs noted several ways that caregiving impacts sibling relationships, and although the specifics of our stories sometimes differ, the generalities are the same. Jacob’s observations are in black, ours are in red.

  • Sibling disagreements created resentment that caused long-term damage to family relationships.
    We thought we had established a cooperative plan of shared-responsibility, but two of the four siblings did not meet agreed upon expectations.
  • Caregiving relationships can become strained.
    Although their brotherly relationship had already declined in adulthood, with caregiving it devolved into estrangement. A good relationship with a sister also became strained to the point of estrangement, but fortunately it has been mended.
  • Attitudes about level-of-care needs can differ. My husband’s brother and sister-in-law were the most insistent that their mother could no longer live independently, but it was also they who were the least-willing make sacrifices or provide care. 
  • Disagreements replay old childhood dynamics.  Repressed childhood resentments were the root of the adult conflict that began to surface when my husband left home to go to college.  The resentment became toxic decades later after their mother died and the estate was being settled. 
  • The dynamics created by birth order still had an impact.  When growing up, there was a definite pecking order in my husband’s family based upon the siblings’ age and sex.  This dynamic played out again in adulthood when my husband’s mother named him Executor of her will near the end of her life. 
  • Pulling together to care for a parent(s) makes some adult siblings draw closer together, but many sibling disagreements about needs and how to share responsibility create resentments that sometimes simmer, occasionally explode, and invariably cause long-term damage. As caregiving needs escalated, my husband and I called a meeting to re-clarify our expectations for all four siblings to honor their commitment.  After the meeting, resentment grew, leading to family mediation, which was conducted by the hospice spiritual advisor.  There was begrudging agreement and follow through until the end.  But after their mother died and the estate was being settled, there were financial accusations, the repercussion of which was long-term resentment and estrangement. 

 Again, visit https://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/info-07-2013/family-siblings-aging-parents-jacobs.html for tips about:  How to Share a Caregiving Role with One or More Siblings.” 



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