Book Offers Excellent Advice for Siblings at War Over Parent Care

  • Few siblings with aging parents haven't had some disagreements over the care of their aging parents. So, when the public relations folks for the book They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy, contacted me and suggested sending me a review copy, I gave them my mailing address. This seemed like a book many readers would be interested in, since the majority of family caregivers have siblings. Add to that the fact that They're Your Parents Too! was written by Francine Russo, a writer who covered the aging and boomer beat for Time Magazine's Generations, as well as other national publications, and I was sure this book would be a winner. I was not disappointed.

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    In her book, Russo examines the whole family issue in detail, from why it's such a big issue now through how to make peace with your siblings.


    What Russo calls the "Twilight Transition" has become common for families. She says, in describing the purpose of her book, that what she wanted to explore was, "the emotional dynamics of the last developmental transition of our first family, when we reengage so intensely again with our parents, our sisters, and brothers."


    With eyes wide open, she examines adult children and their relationships with their parents. She writes, "Do I, as an adult child, still rely on my mother to be there for me....Do I still need to prove to my father that I've made the right choices...Are we still declaring to them: ‘Look at what I've achieved'?"


    I highlighted far more in this book than I could ever share here, but below are some of the points addressed in Russo's book:

    • How to communicate more constructively with your siblings and parents to avoid the "anger/guilt" gridlock.
    • How to reach consensus when siblings disagree about their parents' needs - overcoming denial and "distrusting the messenger."
    • Coping with parents' aging and the realization of our own mortality. This is a new developmental crisis for many.
    • How siblings can be in it "together." Russo gives tips on staying close even when one sibling is doing most of the caregiving and another is long-distance.
    • How to avoid distrust and power struggles when one sibling has been given the parents' financial authority. She includes advice on making peace with the parents' wills.
    • Working within the bounds of a parent with dementia, which involves unique emotional issues.
    • Russo discusses opportunities for sibling reconciliation, even after the parents die, so the family can be sustained into the future.

    Russo investigates "emotional stalemates" with siblings and old childhood rivalries that rear up because siblings often haven't seen much of each other, sometimes for decades, and then are thrown back into the original family dynamic. Because of the families she's studied and the research she's done, Russo clearly recognizes the rifts that occur in the families, yet she presents a book that comes across as hopeful. She offers encouragement that families can make it thorough this "Twilight Transition."


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    Russo provides guidance to help siblings heal rifts. She presents choices, which sometimes means that one chooses to ignore an "injustice" in the parents' wills so one can still have a relationship with siblings.


    Rarely does a day pass when I don't get some communication from a caregiver with sibling issues. Many times the whole family dynamic looks hopelessly broken, at least from the information I receive, which is of course biased. Going forward, I will recommend to these people this excellent tool.


    They're Your Parents Too!" is far cheaper and more convenient than family counseling. I'm not saying this book would replace counseling, but I am suggesting that if a family seeks counseling, they may want to ask the counselor to read this book along with them. Few people who have cared for their elders will read it without learning something that can help at least a little.


    They're Your Parents, Too!, published by Bantam, is available in bookstores and online.


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Published On: January 30, 2010