3 Tips for Siblings When Caring For Aging Parents

October 2, 2015  |  

By Jane Wolf Waterman

If you’re among the tens of millions of Americans trying to care for aging parents with your siblings and finding that an overwhelming challenge, you’re NOT alone. I’ve coached many families to exchange that “problem” for a life-long blessing. Once you learn to communicate candidly, recognize you DO need and want to help each other, you’re on the road to unimagined benefits for all involved, especially your aging folks. Following these tips will allow you to make better plans, have more fun as a family and avoid the litigation and bitterness so many others endure.

For those without siblings, early life presented unique challenges. Only children often fantasize about a loving brother or sister, believing then we’d never be “alone” nor unprotected.

For those of you raised with siblings, those challenges sound easy, contrasted with seemingly endless conflicts you had with your siblings or the comparisons your parents may have made between you and them. Those rivalries developed way back may persist today, even perhaps the fear you weren’t as well loved as their “favorite child.”  

That kind of unkind competition is not worthy of mature siblings contemplating or already engaged in what we at Parenting Our Parents™ (POP) call “POParenting.” You can leave behind that piece of immaturity and allow common sense to win out.  Everyone will benefit from finding a way to rid yourselves of sibling rivalry and uniting for the greater cause: your family’s wellbeing.

Somebody — why not you? — needs to begin! Unless your family starts sharing what’s really happening, the denial/avoidance can prove hazardous to your parents’ health and safety as well as your family dynamics.

We don’t want to see our loved ones diminished and most fear the depth and breadth of help that may be needed and the meaning of that for our lives. By the time we “see” our parents are aging, siblings have often moved away. Re-connecting with those who’ve become alienated, or just uninvolved — everyone’s so busy with their lives! — often takes real courage. An important key: acknowledge your differences as well as your need for each other.

Put another way: if you have aging parents, it’s probably time to get yourselves together and become the family you’d like to have. Why?


Ask the 1 in 4 families caring for aging relatives how they’re doing. They’re burdened by the demands of time, money, divided attention, their own aging and/or ill heath and the emotional roller coaster of role reversal. Additionally, there’s the lack of expertise, support, family leave, cultural norms and insufficient finances.  

We help families nationwide to have frank, inclusive and informed conversations starting early on, assessing what’s needed and who can contribute what. We offer POP Family Coaching to demonstrate valuing individual differences and support families banding together, avoiding the destructive elements of lingering rivalries and “boosting” needed skills of communicating, planning and playing to each other’s strengths.

When families start talking and listening to each other, we find out many of us are scared, overwhelmed by our shared parents’ situations. We notice some are better at certain tasks than others: one cooks healthy, delicious meals; another regularly drives Dad to his doctors and takes detailed notes he emails everyone. Someone has untapped resources — time, funds, expertise in caring, a car that can fit Mom’s wheelchair. Another has qualities our seniors may need from family, like the patience to sit and read all afternoon to a beloved blind grandma.   

The sooner you talk, assess your family’s needs and resources, the sooner you can develop what we POP coaches call a complete “POPlan” including: items needing to be accomplished; delegation of tasks with deadlines; accountability; ongoing assessment of the POPlan.



Once that work’s done, planning can turn to family fun together. What brought joy during your childhood? Maybe your family sat around the piano, singing together. Can’t you recreate that now? Did your family take fishing trips, sharing family lore over the fireplace? The fish are still there but the campfire might be your back yard.

POParenting can be so much more than a lonely obligation. Together you and your siblings can create special times, recapturing old memories and making new ones.



When you and your siblings are what’s left of your family, do you want litigation or cooperation, arguments or wonderful memories? By the way, your children and grandchildren are watching you POParent. Do you want to leave them a legacy of fighting over your parents’ remaining assets, squandering money on lawyers’ bills?  Ultimately, your parents will be very grateful for your cooperation and you’ll have the satisfaction of having completed the Circle of Life, caring well for those who once cared well for you.



About the Author: Byline BIO: Family care coach, advocate and author Jane Wolf Waterman, M.S.W., J.D., is a licensed psychotherapist, former law professor and founder of Parenting Our Parents™. POP is a unique coaching program now helping families across the country to navigate the practical, emotional, financial, legal and other challenges that are so confusing and complex for families with senior loved ones. Learn more at www.ParentingOurParents.org.

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