Aging, Siblings, and The War in Families

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oldmanwithcane copyImagine this: a family in which all siblings caring for an elderly loved one are on the same page. Everyone gets along. They make agreements without fighting. People are respectful to one another.Does it sound like a fantasy family? These families do exist, and I do meet them. I envy them, too. The problems they bring up to be worked out get worked out. My advice is taken and things go smoothly. Sigh.
I wish it were like that in my own family.There’s a disabled elder in my family. He has a life, and he does all right, but he needs help. He can’t make it financially without the support of his siblings. Have they stepped up to volunteer? No. Have I urged, cajoled, and begged for every one of them who can to pitch in? Of course I have. This is my field. Wouldn’t the professional elder advisor use what she knows with her own family?

Well, it doesn’t work all that well, but I keep trying. I have been able to get two (of four) siblings to make relatively small contributions toward the support of the disabled one. Contributions are given irregularly, not as promised, grudgingly or all of the above.

It gets me angry, frustrated and it shocks me, too. I think most of us who expect family members to step up and do the right thing financially for a needy relative are astounded when they won’t. There’s one in my family who has the means, but flat out refuses to help each month. In fact, there is no financial contribution from this capable person at all.

Some just don’t care to do more. Some don’t do anything.
I think there are many families out there who have to help an aging parent or other relative with meeting basic expenses. When the support isn’t forthcoming from any family member who could help but refuses to help, it certainly causes resentment.

I spent a lot of time being so irritated about this in my family, I got an upset stomach. Then I talked myself out of that. I told myself what I tell other families who face this same problem: the person who refuses to help isn’t going to change. You just have to deal with it. You may not like it. You may not feel good about the unfairness of it, but you do have to accept that you can’t make a sibling do the right thing.

Resentment isn’t good for you. It can make you sick.
I have made peace with this. I feel fortunate that I can help this relative each month. He could be homeless if we didn’t pitch in. This could happen to lots of aging parents, too, who outlive their money. Care gets more expensive than they can afford. They use up all their savings. They need more than their income provides. Their adult kids or siblings start writing checks every month to support them.

When I talk to the needy sibling and I know his essential needs are taken care of, I feel relief. I know that for as long as he lives, I will have to help him. Even if most other people in the family aren’t generous, I know that I can be. I know that I’m doing the right thing.

If it sounds like something similar may be going on in your family, take heart. Fairness among siblings is the ideal, but in the real world of dysfunctional families, a lot of unfairness can happen. We just learn to live with it. We learn to make peace with this adversity and to just forge ahead and do what we must, regardless.

If we change our expectations of other family members, we feel less stress.
Meanwhile, I’m using exercise to dissipate the frustration and irritation that comes up when I am reminded of who isn’t giving any help or who is begrudgingly giving so little. A half hour swim can work wonders. As I exhale under the water, I imagine all the stress of annoying family leaving me with each out-breath. I’m literally blowing them off. See you at the pool!

Until next time,

Carolyn Rosenblatt AgingParents.com

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