Dealing with Aging Parents and Siblings: 5 Ways to Work Better Together

Dealing with siblings and aging parents can be frustrating and stressful for caregivers

Caregiving with family can bring up conflicts

For many caregivers, it can be frustrating and stressful to work with siblings to care for aging parents. Or, to work with family to care for a spouse or other relative.

There’s a lot to deal with – past conflicts, clashing personalities, tough decisions, and unequal contributions.

In a U.S. News & World Report article, Francine Russo shares tips from her book They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy.

Her advice is timeless and it can also apply to other family relationships, not just siblings.

We share the 5 most useful tips that will help caregivers who are struggling to work with family to care for their older adult.




5 top tips for dealing with aging parents and siblings

1. Falling prey to the “killer” misconception that “I shouldn’t have to ask”
If you’re the one doing most (or all) of the caregiving, you’ve probably thought: “If my sister was a good person, she would volunteer to help or at least be more willing to help.”

Francine’s advice is to remember that not all siblings feel the same way about their parent.

Each person has a different relationship and had a different role in the family while growing up. Today, they may not feel the same way about your parents’ care as you do.


2. Assuming that our siblings are the same people they were as kids
Francine suggests approaching your relatives as adults because their reaction could surprise you.

After all, you’re no longer the same person you were in childhood. Before making any assumptions, give them a chance to show you their adult personality.


3. Automatically reverting to childhood roles
Maybe when you were kids, the older sibling took care of everything.

It’s easy to fall back into that pattern and let them take on most of the responsibility of caring for your parents.

Francine reminds us that isn’t fair to any sibling. Take a step back and don’t fall into those old roles without thinking about it and talking things through.


4. Not realizing that your beef may be caused by your parent, not your sibling
“They may not mean to, but parents can divide their adult children,” says Russo.

Her example: You fly in to visit your mom and all she can talk about is how your brother called her a few times last week and how wonderful he is. That will probably make you grind your teeth in frustration since you’ve just flown across the country to see her.

Parents can also divide their children when they tell each person a different story about how they’re doing.

The one who sees them most often or lives nearby might get the truth about her decline. But the one who’s far away may see mom putting on a good face because she doesn’t want them to worry.

When the two siblings talk, they’ll have completely different ideas about how mom is doing and each will think the other is crazy.


5. Not planning for tough realities ahead
End-of-life is difficult to talk about so most people avoid starting the conversation.

But avoiding it until the last minute can cause even more conflict and problems at the worst time.

Francine’s tip is to call a family meeting when your parents are still healthy.

Here’s her suggestion for how to start the conversation: “Remember aunt so-and-so, and how our cousins were still fighting when she was on the respirator and they wouldn’t let her die and how painful that was for everybody? We don’t want that to happen in our family. Mom, Dad, do you have a living will? Have you assigned somebody to be the healthcare proxy? If you were on a respirator or in really bad shape, would you want us to do everything possible, or would you just want to go quietly? Who should make that decision? We’ll all want to do what’s right, but we may have different feelings.”

When the whole family hears your parents’ wishes straight from their mouths, it’s easier to be on the same page when the time comes to carry out those wishes.


Next Step  Get Francine’s 9 caregiver tips for dealing with aging parents and siblings at U.S. News & World Report


Recommended for you:


By DailyCaring Editorial Team


This article wasn’t sponsored, but does contain affiliate links. We never link to products or services for the sole purpose of making a commission. Recommendations are based on our honest opinions. For more information, see How We Make Money.


  • Reply June 28, 2021


    what does one do when it is stepfamily and none are very understanding of a stepmom

  • Reply September 6, 2019

    Deb A.

    Sorry but this isn’t a “Reply,” but a cry for help too.
    First, my sister lives in CA and I live nearby to our Mom in CT. I have always had a difficult relationship with my sister. She’s 3 years older than me and even as kids, we never had a loving/fun relationship. I was always scared of what she’d do next. Anyway, now that our Mom has progressed to needing to live in a Skilled Nursing Facility for Dementia/Alzheimer patients, my sister’s emails and texts are VERY hurtful, very critical, disrespectful, non-supportive of our efforts and never believes what my husband and I tell her about Mom. It goes on and on like that. For the last several years, for my health and to reduce my stress from “the sister,” my husband and I have banned/blocked my sister from calling us on the phone as we don’t have supportive conversations about Mom, instead my sister monopolizes the conversations with her agendas and doesn’t hear what we have to say. We never talk about anything else except things pertaining to Mom. So as our Mom has progressed through her disease, I not only lost my Mom to Advanced Dementia, but lost any hope of having a friendly and respectful relationship with my sister. And I get a lot of anxiety expecting my sister’s next set of emails/texts. I have seen a LCSW for years and stopped this spring 2019, and also attended a Support Group because of Mom. The support group ended a year ago as the facilitator moved away and no one else fills those shoes as well as the other facilitator. I’ve tried. But unfortunately the sister thing is really bad and upsetting more than care giving Mom. Other than suggesting I go back to seeing a LCSW and/or attending another support group, what else is there? Thanks!

  • Reply July 10, 2019

    John Davis

    I am the only relative living near my mom . When “mom” says something odd or when she doesn’t answer her phone I get the call to go check on her . It can be 3 or 4 calls a day from all family members. Dealing with her is a lot and their added burdens is driving me crazy.

Leave a Reply