How to Handle Family Members Who Won't Help With Caregiving
Dear Candid Caregiver: I’m the only adult child who lives in our parents’ community, therefore by default I am the family caregiver, and yes, I resent it. It’s not the parent care that I resent, but the fact that I have three siblings and they won’t even recognize what I do, let alone really try to help, is endlessly grating on me.
I didn’t mind at first when I was just stopping in to see our parents a couple of times a week after work to make sure things were okay, but now, I feel like I have a second job as a caregiver. Mom is 78, and in decent health physically, but she’s developed some cognitive problems. Dad is 83 and has had two strokes and is at risk for more. Who is taking our parents to the doctor regularly? Me. Who is making sure that groceries are picked up? Who is doing their cleaning and much of their cooking? Me. Who is on call for every emergency? Me.
It’s like this. I understand that my siblings would have to travel to help Mom and Dad so being here every day isn’t feasible, but couldn’t they change off for a monthly visit? If they can’t even do that, could they at least not second-guess me or criticize my decisions?
It infuriates me when they send links to articles that can “help me manage things better.” They even send articles to help me relax and not be so “up tight.” Last week, after I unloaded more than a little anger on my sister, she told me, flat out, that if I only went over once a week Mom and Dad would still be fine so I’m just making work for myself. That is utter nonsense. They can’t be left alone that long.
I know I can’t keep this up without burning out and possibly losing my job. What I’d like is for our parents to move into a really nice local assisted living facility where another couple they know lives. These people love it there and are encouraging my parents to move. My parents can afford it and are open to the idea. I believe that deep down even with my help they don’t feel safe in their home anymore and communal living would help them feel more secure. Also, they’d be able to socialize easily with their friends and they could and meet others which is out of the question the way they are living.
What happens when I suggest this to any of my siblings? They say that they don’t want our parents living in one of “those places.” Since they don’t seem invested in our parents’ quality of life now, the only thing that I can think of is that they don’t want see our parent’s money go for assisted living. It seems that they’d far rather have me take care of our parents so that they can pretend that our parents don’t need care – and my help is free. Grrr!
Resentment has been a problem for me for a long time, but it’s really taking over my thought process now and I don’t like that.
Resentment has been a problem for me for a long time, but it’s really taking over my thought process now and I don’t like that. I love my parents and want what’s best for them yet I’m uncomfortable bucking my siblings. Do I just go ahead and work with Mom and Dad as if my siblings didn’t exist? Do I owe them anything? – Resentful Randi
Dear Resentful Randi: I’m sorry that your siblings are being not only dense, but self-absorbed and selfish. It’s either that or they are in serious denial. Apparently, convincing themselves that your parents don’t really need much help and you are overreacting by being so attentive keeps away any guilt that they’d otherwise feel. Whatever the reason, this is beyond unfair and needs to change.
From your note, I’ve gathered that you’ve communicated with them and their response is to criticize your caregiving decisions, yet offer no help. Even if you have communicated clearly with them, I feel that you do owe them one more chance.
Here’s what you do. Draft a careful group email to send to them laying out what caring for your parents entails for you. List medical visits as well as any emergency calls that you’ve tended to. Tell them what you do for your parents daily and weekly. Be sure to emphasize the fact that you are on call 24/7 for emergency duty, which is one of the most wearing parts of caregiving. Tell them that you are beyond stress right now and headed to burnout.
Then, tell them that this is going to change.
My thoughts are that, after reading this email, your siblings will find time to visit. Funny how that works. Let them come. Stand firm. Find a place to talk with them away from your parents, settle in, and then lay it all out. Tell them, you cannot and will not continue to do this alone, so unless they can set up a routine where they are all reliably visiting and staying with your parents to provide care, you are moving ahead.
When they, predictably, say that they will help out more – really they will – tell them that they have one last chance. Let them know you and your parents have had many discussions about what they’d like so you want your parents in on any discussion of how your siblings will help.
Most likely, they will either not be able to set up a schedule or, if they do, they won’t keep it. If they set up a schedule, give them a month to make good. We both know that even if any help is offered, they won’t keep it up, so then you should go ahead and, with your parents’ blessing, move forward.
Assuming that your parents are still interested in this particular facility by this time, take them there as a precursor to making a transition. Arrange for lunch with their friends so that they get a feel for the place. Obtain the information that you’d need from the administration to help them make a good decision. If possible, check with the adult children of your parents’ friends to find out what they think of this particular place and ask for other references, as well. Then, if after you’ve thoroughly investigated this facility this move seems like a good idea for your parents, get them prepared for the move. Keep your siblings informed all the way through the process, but don’t let them bluff you into giving up.
This is a lot to put on you, I know. You’re only human for feeling resentful now, and you’ll likely feel additional resentment about having to help your parents make this move on your own. Just keep pushing because, while even with the help of assisted living, you’ll still have many responsibilities as a caregiver. Life should get much easier for you.
After the move has been accomplished, it will be time to work on healing the rift with your siblings. You most likely don’t want the family completely split over this issue forever and you’ll have a better chance of future healing if you can work on forgiveness. If necessary, consider seeing a counselor to help you manage any residual feelings of resentment so the negativity doesn’t turn inward and damage your health.
Your letter spoke eloquently to the frustration and resentment of many family caregivers, Randi, so thank you for that. Feel free to update us as things move along. I wish you well.