All Pulling Together: A Brief Guide to Sharing the Care for a Loved One

Caring for aging loved ones requires a lot of work, but there’s no reason for one person to take on everything alone. Families can pull together to share the responsibility of ensuring a parent or other senior is getting the help he or she needs to live the best possible life without creating an undue burden on just one child. Read on to find out how to navigate this admittedly difficult terrain.

Consider Family Dynamics

Every family is different, and strained relationships are common among adult children of aging parents. This can make seeing eye to eye difficult, especially when it comes to emotionally charged issues like making decisions about a parent’s changing needs. Instead of judging each other, siblings need to be understanding and compassionate.

Primary caregivers who don’t have the luxury of being able to share caregiving responsibilities with other family members need to find help elsewhere. They can get information from about what to do if an aging loved one’s medical needs become too much to handle at home safely.

Consider Each Person’s Strengths

Before making any decisions about the division of responsibilities, have each family member consider his or her strengths as they apply to caregiving. Some people are good at keeping track of finances, while others will be better at communicating with medical staff or researching available help and options. Even family members who live far away can call to offer good cheer. Knowing where each person’s strengths lie helps to divide labor equitably and ensure no one gets burned out.

Consider Personal Limits

It’s equally important to be realistic about personal limits. Consider not just practical concerns like having to go to work every day or providing childcare for younger family members, but also emotional limits. Live-in caregivers need to be able to respect their parents’ independence while simultaneously providing for more of their basic needs, while those helping from afar must be capable of balancing compassion and assertiveness when communicating with loved ones. It’s important to define practical and emotional limits and figure out how to work around them to provide respite for primary caregivers.

Try to Involve Everyone

If one sibling is reluctant to help, it creates more work for everyone else. Try to calmly and respectfully address the underlying issues behind their reluctance. It can help those who have not had exceptionally close relationships with their parents to understand that lending a helping hand in whatever ways possible also relieves some of the burdens from other family members.

Keep Everyone Informed

As people age, their needs continue to change, often quickly. Schedule weekly or monthly meetings to discuss what’s going on, compare notes, and make adjustments to all caregivers’ schedules as needed. It’s best for the person most familiar with medical terminology and procedures to act as a designated contact point with doctors, but any family member can take on the responsibility of keeping the rest of the family up-to-date.

The Bottom Line

Caring for an aging loved one is hard. Getting the rest of the family involved will both make it easier to provide respite for primary caregivers and strengthen the bonds between siblings, so it’s always worth the effort, even for families that aren’t particularly close. It’s also fine to seek help from others outside the family, including social workers, therapists, and professional caregivers.