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Holiday Fun with Siblings When Caring for Parents

by Patti Urban, CDP, CSA

The holidays are a time of joy and family – until it’s not. Ask any family caregiver how successfully they navigate the care for their aging parents with their other siblings. You will hear many stories of criticism, opinions, or non-availability. Asking for help doesn’t always bring the results that are needed.

Approximately two out of three family caregivers have difficulties with their siblings. Many complain about brothers and sisters who are always too busy to help, yet criticize the caregiver’s decisions when they visit, particularly at holiday time.

Sometimes criticisms are warranted; however, most siblings do not understand how difficult it is to provide regular hands-on care for an aging loved one.

Coming home for the holidays and spending a day or two with the parents is rarely enough time to understand the complexities of medication management, particularly if someone has dementia. Aging loved ones are experts at hiding, losing, and pretending to take their pills. If Mom is not well groomed it may be because she fights when dressing or taking a shower. It’s exhausting for the caregiver. When you bring up moving Mom and Dad to an assisted living community or bringing in some help, the siblings don’t want to spend the money (or their inheritance).

Even if your Mom and Dad agree to move to assisted living or hire an outside caregiving agency, siblings may still fight it because they are used to the primary family caregiver doing it all and at no cost. Did I mention “inheritance”?

When Criticism Begins

When the holidays come around, family members arrive, and the criticisms begin, there are generally two paths that the family caregiver can follow: you can either react in a defensive mode or you can attempt to have a calm family meeting. It’s likely you’ve tried both approaches and neither produced permanent results. Continuing to obsess about the anger and frustration only hurts you and your relationships in the long run, and family meetings usually turn into blame sessions often with old childhood issues thrown in to boot.

So, what other alternatives could you have? Standing up for yourself before a holiday gathering is one effective approach. You might start by analyzing each sibling to determine what their strengths are. For instance, if one sibling is an accountant, then hands-on caregiving is probably not a great option. What is, however, is paying the bills. Another sibling may be great at research and could be assigned the task of identifying caregiver agencies or assisted living communities. It’s important to list specific tasks each sibling could do upon arriving for the holidays and send it out to them preemptively. Make sure to tell them how much you appreciate their help and knew they wanted to give more but it just wasn’t possible for them.

Last but not least, inform the siblings on when you are taking time off. The siblings would them be responsible for personally handling the parents’ care or making other arrangements during that time.

It’s important to reiterate that the parents’ money is to be used for their care, and it would be unlikely there would be an inheritance. Generally the primary family caregiver is usually the one who lives the closest to the parents. The siblings who live out of the area are often grateful to be pitching in when they can with something that fits their own personalities. The result is that no one feels guilty and takes it out on the caregiver.

How to Make Your Caregiving Needs Known

How will you be treated when the family comes to town this year? Will you be shown respect and concern for all you do? Or will you be criticized by siblings who, likely out of deep-seated guilt, treat you as if you can’t do anything right? If you’re anticipating the latter, you need to form a plan now to take a firm stance and stand up for yourself. If you don’t feel comfortable doing so alone, then consider asking a third party for help.

A geriatric care manager or other professional mediator is an excellent addition to your plan. Even a friend of the family may be able to help everyone understand what needs to be done and why. Bringing in a third party may seem odd, but if it’s effective, the result could be beneficial for you and your parents. Some peace and understanding in the family — along with some help from your siblings — would be a most welcome holiday gift for many caregivers.


Patti Urban, CDP, CSA, is the CEO of Aging Care Planning Solutions, a geriatric care management practice that assists the elderly and their families with advance care planning as well as guidance for patients with life-limiting illnesses. She is also a Certified Dementia Practitioner, Certified End of Life Doula, a Certified Senior Advisor, former Executive Director of a memory-care assisted living community, and former owner of a non-medical home care agency. She can be reached at

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