Like the archetypal tale of Cain and Abel, our sibling bonds can be a mix of love and resentment. And sibling rivalry, with its complex feelings, often leads to a cascade of emotions - empathy, guilt, manipulation, shame.
Consider what defines the relationships with your brothers and sisters – is it birth order, personality, common interests, values or similar character traits? It’s not unusual for kids to feel that mom had a favorite, and that impacts everyone. Think about your family dynamics and how they play out.
Then look at what’s going on between you and your siblings as your parents begin to decline.
The statistics are staggering. According to estimates from the National Alliance for Caregiving, 65 million Americans are family caregivers for an ill, disabled or aging relative. It's difficult to take time away from work and family. And then there’s the added stress of caring for parents in decline. When faced with this dilemma, many of us revert back to less adaptive attitudes and behaviors. If you or your siblings have become inflexible instead of collaborative, here are some tips that may help:
Recognize why you're upset. There's a lot going on as you try to keep all the balls in the air. Worrying about your parents and the decisions you’ll have to make on their behalf is stressful. At the same time you're facing loss - your parents as you knew them, fears about their declining health and eventual death.
Divide the responsibilities. Love for your parents and shared memories are what you have in common. Now is the time to support each other. If you live far away but have the wherewithal to help financially, do it and call often. If you live local, are hands-on and don't think the others are doing enough, tell them and understand the guilt they may be feeling.
Talk about your emotions. Whether its frustration, sadness or grief, have a conversation with your siblings or friends who understand what you're going through. It can be cathartic to put it all on the table and easier to sort out. And those who have been in your situation may guide you to a different perspective and possible solutions.
Focus on individual qualities. We all have unique skills and strengths. Which of your siblings has some free time and manages money well or lives close to your folks and is persuasive enough to gain their cooperation? Try to put the best use of everyone's talents to work.
Be proactive. Arrange a family meeting and try to resolve any longstanding disputes. Include your parents and discuss their preferences about how they want to live as they decline. As difficult as this may be, it will minimize confusion and conflict in the long run.
Put what you're learning into play. You don't have to wait until you're incapacitated to consider some of these issues, write a will or create a legacy. For the benefit of your children, be a good role model. Remember, they’re watching.