When a parent has dementia, it is easy for the stress of caregiving to increase tension or drive a wedge between adult children. Designing a plan to keep your own sanity and your sibling relationships together is of paramount importance now and for the future. I am a middle child and the daughter of a parent with dementia, and I've found the following strategies to be tremendously helpful for our family.
1. Compartmentalize your communications
Whether or not your parent is at home or in a care facility, there will be more communication related to the situation than you ever could have imagined. There will be daily updates, medical issues and legal wrangling. That’s on a good day. Keeping these types of communications separate from a normal sibling relationship is important.
Fortunately, with today’s technology this can happen easily. My siblings and I usually correspond via email for anything official (not fun-related) regarding our parent with dementia. This not only provides a record if we would need it later, but it also allows us to open the email when we have the time and energy to handle it. We keep all of our other communications on text messages or phone calls. This unspoken routine allows us not to dread every interaction with each other and still be able to share fun times.
2. Remember you each have your strengths
Each of us has our own unique abilities. We also have our own weaknesses. As siblings in a stressful environment, it would be easy to focus on who is not carrying his or her weight. However, when you feel like pointing fingers and being critical, try instead to remember what your sibling is really good at in the situation. For example, I tend to quarterback the situation at the facility and manage the day to day communications. My brother handles the paperwork and overall finances. When my sister visits, she outfits my parent in the latest fashions and keeps the room looking beautiful. Focusing on our individual talents instead of our shortcomings is extremely helpful.
3. Your parent wants you stay friends
As a mother, I know this is true. My hope is that my sons have each other to lean on as my husband and I age, and beyond. I believe most parents feel the very same way. In a healthy mindset, this is what your parent would want for you and your siblings. When the situation feels helpless and you feel like taking it out on your siblings, remember that these people are truly your life partners. They have the potential to share the good times and bad times with you for more years than anyone else in your life. It can be extremely difficult to stay on good terms during some of the times that feel beyond manageable. However, staying friends and focusing on a relationship beyond the immediate situation is a goal worth pursuing.