Winning Support from Family Members while Caregiving

1. Try to accept your family — as they really are, not who you wish they were. 

Families are complicated and never perfect. There are no “shoulds” about how people feel. They are not bad people or bad children if they donʼt feel the same as you do. If you can accept this, you will have a better chance of getting support from them, or, at least, less conflict.
2. Do not oversimplify. 

Itʼs easy to assume that you are completely right and your family members are all wrong — or lazy, irresponsible, uncaring, etc. Each person has a different relationship with your parent, and each personʼs outlook is bound to be different.
3. Establish family member roles. 

Before you can ask for help, you need to figure out what you want, and it isn’t as simple as it seems. First, ask yourself whether you really, deep down, want help. Many caregivers say they do but actually discourage help. So think hard. Do you want other family members to do certain tasks regularly? Do you want them to give you time off once in a while? Or do you feel you have everything under control but youʼd like them to contribute money for services or respite?
4. Or — and this is a big one for many caregivers — are you feeling underappreciated by family members and need more emotional support? 

Many caregivers feel lonely, isolated and unappreciated. If youʼd like more sibling support, ask them to call once a week. And tell them it would really help if they would say “thanks” or that youʼre doing a good job. They are more likely to do this if you donʼt criticize them for what they are not doing.

  • Ask for help clearly and effectively. You might ask for help by saying: “Can you stay with Mom every Thursday? I have to get the shopping done for the week and it gives me some time to myself.” Donʼt fall into the common trap of thinking, “I shouldnʼt have to ask.” Your siblings may assume that you have everything covered and they may not recognize the added responsibilities and “burden.” They are involved with their own lives and struggles and may not be attuned to yours and they cannot read your mind. Also, if youʼre not exactly sure what you want from them, you may be giving them mixed messages.
  • Ask directly and be specific. Many caregivers hint or complain or send magazine articles about the hardships of eldercare. But these strategies do not work well.
  • Ask for whatʼs realistic. People get more when they donʼt ask for the impossible. So consider the relationship your sibling has with Mom or Dad and ask for what that person can really give. If your sister canʼt spend ten minutes with Mom without screaming at her, donʼt ask her to spend time; ask for something thatʼs easier for her, like doing paperwork or bringing groceries.

5. Watch how you ask for help—and steer clear of guilt and anger.

  • Avoid making other family members feel guilty. Guilt makes people uncomfortable and defensive. They might get angry, minimize or criticize what you are doing, or avoid you. That is likely to make you angry, and then you will try harder to make them feel guilty. They may attack back or withdraw even more. 
  • Sometimes you can receive criticism from family members because they are genuinely concerned about their loved one. Try to listen to these concerns without judgment and consider whether it is useful feedback. At the same time, be bold by asking for appreciation for all that you are doing—and remember to say thanks back when someone is helpful.
  • Be careful of your tone and language when you request something. People first hear how you sound before they hear what you are saying. You might think you are asking for help in a nice way, but if youʼre angry, thatʼs the tone others will hear. And theyʼre likely to react in unhelpful ways.

6. Get help from a professional outside the family. Families have long, complicated histories, and during this very emotional passage, it is often hard to communicate with each other without overreacting, misinterpreting or fighting old battles. Even the healthiest families can sometimes use support of an objective professional. Family therapists, social workers, geriatric care managers, physicians or clergy can help siblings establish the state of your parentʼs health and needs in order to fairly distribute responsibilities. In family meetings, they can assist with staying focused on the topic at-hand and help avoid bringing up old arguments.
7. Steer clear of a power struggle over the assignment of legal matters. Whether or not you have been given legal authority over finances or health, you need to remember that it is your loved one who has made these decisions. If you are power of attorney for your Mom or Dad, be sure to keep detailed records and send your siblings statements about how you spent the money. This may seem like a lot of extra work, but record keeping is required by law, and being open will reduce distrust or distortion—and lawsuits. If a family member has been given legal power, try to accept the decision and donʼt take it as a personal attack on you. Do your best to work with the family member who has the authority by presenting expenses and bills in black and white. If the family member who has been assigned as the executor doesnʼt cooperate, then bring in a professional to explain your loved one’s needs and mediate. If you are concerned about manipulation, a changed will, or undue influence, contact local Adult Protective Services.
8. Donʼt let inheritance disputes tear your family apart. If you feel wronged by the way your loved one has divided their money and property, itʼs natural to be upset, especially when you are grieving. You may feel that you deserve more because you have cared for your loved one. If thatʼs what you feel, you need to discuss this with your loved one while they are alive and can make these decisions. If you suspect foul play by another family member, then this is the time to consult an attorney or Adult Protective Services in Erie County.

Research shows that most people feel a need to divide their estates equally, as a sign of their equivalent love for all their children. When they split things unequally, itʼs often because they are worried that a particular child will be in greater need. Whatever their reasons, remember that it was your loved one, not your other family members, who decided this. Think hard before you take your anger or disappointment out on your family. They are what remains of your original family and, for many people, this relationship becomes more important after the loved one dies.


How to Hold a Family Meeting

Tips for improving family communication.