| Holly Tiret and Christi Demitz, Michigan State University |
One thing you can rely on is that people change as they age, and so do their relationships with siblings. Some look at sibling relationships as an hourglass effect. Very close in the early years, slim to none in the teen and early adult years, then growing closer as the years go by. As people age, they seem to grow closer to their siblings and have less conflict. One of the things that tends to bring siblings back together in later life is the need to care for aging parents.
The pressure of caregiving can lead to frustration and conflict at times. Sometimes it is because it can be hard to face the reality of a parent’s failing condition, which brings up their own fears of losing their parent or facing their own mortality. More often, the sibling that is taking on most of the care may feel resentful of an uneven distribution of caregiving duties. Other siblings may feel left out and not kept up to date on things. Conflicts also occur when siblings disagree on their perceptions on what their parents’ needs are, for example moving into a nursing home, or remaining in their own home.
Having a clear understanding of healthy adult sibling roles starts with re-evaluating what existing relationships are. Some siblings get stuck in childhood roles. For example, “the youngest needs protection” or “the oldest has the most responsibility.” This can lead to resentment, tension, and unfair sharing of family responsibilities, especially if you share the care of aging parents. It could help to take a fair and realistic look at your own siblings as they are now – as adults, with adult responsibilities and capabilities. Ask yourself if your expectations and perceptions are accurate or outdated.
A family meeting may help when dealing with issues related to caring for an aging parent. This can be an opportunity for all to express feelings, learn what caregiving tasks are needed, allow siblings a chance to help in ways they are able according to individual abilities, current life pressures and personal freedoms. If communication is antagonistic, try having the family meeting in a neutral place, like a restaurant. Invite an outside mediator like a social worker, family friend or pastor.
Another thing to think about is what type of relationship you have with your adult siblings. Relationships with our brothers and sisters can enrich our lives as we age. Nurturing these relationships in later life is important, as they may be our strongest surviving support system. If you have a sister, consider yourself extremely lucky. Research shows that sister/ sister relationships remain a constant strong bond throughout life. Even brother/sister relationships are reported as strong and supportive.
If you are a parent, you can have a huge impact on your children’s older adult life by encouraging healthy, supportive sibling bonds. It may also affect your own health and wellbeing because siblings with already established healthy relationships are much more equipped to take care of you as you age.
Want to learn more about adult sibling relationships and caregiving? Join us for the NCRAN webinar on December 3, 2021.
- Adult Sibling Relationships. Retrieved online at http://articles.extension.org/pages/9057/adult-sibling-relationships
- Brintnall-Peterson, Mary. Ways Siblings Can Support Each Other, University of Wisconsin-Extension, uwex.edu/ces/flp/caregiving
- Gambel, Elizabeth. Louisiana State University Ag Center, The Dynamics of Sibling Relationships While Caring for an Aging Parent
- Powerful Tools for Caregivers, https://www.powerfultoolsforcaregivers.org/
- Stum, Marlene. University of Minnesota Extension, Making Long Term Care Decisions
The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers, by Barry J. Jacobs, PsyD
How to Care for Aging Parents, by Virginia Morris
When Caregiving Calls, by Aaron Blight
The Birth Order Book, by Kevin Leman
Why Can’t We Get Along? Healing Adult Sibling Relationships, by Peter Goldenthal
Siblings without Rivalry, by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish
Siblings You’re Stuck with Each Other, So Stick Together, by James Crist and Elizabeth Verdick