June 19, 2009
As a caregiver, do you feel like you're doing it all? Learn how you can gain the cooperation of siblings and other family members and get the help you need. In this article, Dr. Alexis offers tips to help you get others involved.
Do you spend most of your time and energy caring for your parents while your siblings continue to take vacations, sleep late on weekends, and pursue personal interests? Are you sacrificing your own health and sanity to be a caregiver while your brother and sister, spouse, or other family members rarely lift a finger to help? Are you sick of going it alone?
Though you may feel alone in your own family, you're in good company! Millions of people across the country feel like you do. In fact, in a recent survey, 76% of family caregivers — most of them women — said they don't receive help from other family members. As exhausting as caregiving can be under any circumstances, it is even more tiring and frustrating if you're surrounded by family members who don't seem to want to help.
In fact, many people say that dealing with unhelpful siblings is one of the most stressful aspects of caregiving. Fortunately, being a caregiver doesn't have to be a one-person job, even in a family full of seemingly self-centered or reluctant individuals. It'll take effort and ingenuity, but in most cases, you can gain the cooperation of siblings and other family members and get the help you need. Here are some specific strategies to help ensure you won't have to go it alone.
1. Let them know you need them. Often caregivers become overwhelmed because they are victims of their own success. When family members see how well you handle the job, they may assume you don't need their help — so they simply don't offer. You must learn to assign tasks — to work smarter, not harder, as they say in business.
2. Hold a family meeting. Think of everyone who is, or who should be, involved in caregiving and caregiving decisions and begin to consider arrangements for a time and meeting place. Ideally, you should meet with your family face-to-face. If that's not possible, a telephone conference call or even a private Web chat, should suffice. And, by the way, never end a meeting, call or chat without scheduling your next meeting time.
3. Consider caring styles. Instead of seeing one of your family members as more caring than the others - which can lead to competition, anger and resentment — make the most of your caring styles. Ideally, all of us should be the recipients of our loved ones' touch, time, gifts, affirming words and acts of services. But it's not necessary that we get them all from the same person.
4. Don't discount men. Do you constantly turn to your sister-in-law for help without considering that your brother might be willing and able to help with your parent? Do you bypass your husband, brothers-in-law, sons, and nephews when it comes to caregiving requests? If so, you may have a wealth of untapped resources right at your fingertips.
5. Consider finances. If a sibling has more money than time to offer your parent, ask her to pay for some of the services that you would otherwise have to do yourself.
6. Hold your criticism. If you're trying to gain the cooperation of siblings who either don't do enough or don't do things your way, you'll have a lot better luck with praise and thanks (honey) for steps in the right direction than by criticism (vinegar) of what you don't like.
7. Consider talents and interests. Your sister is an accountant, your brother is a chef, your sister-in-law is a great organizer, and your nephew loves nothing better that to drive his new car. Why not ask them to do what they do best? When you help match caregiving tasks to interests and abilities, you're more likely to get cooperation from all involved.
8. Look beyond siblings. If you need help with caregiving or simply aren't able to be a caregiver yourself, feel free to look beyond your own siblings and "blood" relatives. Your parent's neighbors, longtime friends or members of a place of worship are all good prospects. People don't have to be related by blood to have deep feelings of affection and responsibility toward one another.
9. Show them the money. Though it may sound mercenary, it may take cold, hard cash to get some family members to help out with your parent. Your parent never needs to know that your siblings are being paid for their services.
10. Consider their circumstances. If your sibling's failure to help with a parent's care is uncharacteristic behavior, instead of scolding him or her, try having a heart-to-heart about any problems he or she is facing. It just might start a healing process for both of you.
About the author: Alexis Abramson, Ph.D.
Dr. Abramson's expertise on boomers and mature adults has been featured in many national publications including TIME, Forbes, The Wall Street Journal, Entrepreneur and People magazines. She has written two highly acclaimed books — The Caregivers Survival Handbook, a guide to help caregivers balance the responsibilities of caring for others and for themselves, and Home Safety for Seniors, a room-by-room reference and idea-book for making independent senior, and home-bound, living easier. She earned a master's and a doctorate in gerontology from the University of Southern California.