When Genders Collide While Caregiving

How to resolve resentment that siblings' differing roles and reactions can create

Don't necessarily defer to the care recipient's gender preferences

Aging parents may have fixed beliefs (that a daughter should take them to medical appointments, for example, while a son fixes the house and pays their bills). If these arrangements don't suit a grown child's availability, willingness or talents, you'll have to devise an alternative division of the caregiving labors. The new setup doesn't require the parent's approval; it must, however, meet that parent's needs.

Replace infighting with teamwork

Sisters and brothers have been known to handle caregiver duress by aiming their frustrations at one another. However justified this contention may be, bear in mind that it can only compromise the parent's well-being. I like to remind caregiving siblings of these three can't-miss ground rules:

  1. Everyone must contribute in some form or fashion.
  2. Negotiate continuously with one another to fine-tune the caregiving plan; after all, it must address not only the parent's changing needs but the caregivers' changing lives.
  3. Be flexible; don't let fixed expectations about gender roles keep you from delivering in a superb group effort.

When their roles complement one another, sisters and brothers can forge bonds that will long outlast the parent they cared for together.

Barry J. Jacobs, Psy.D., a clinical psychologist and family therapist, is a member of the AARP Caregiving Advisory Panel.

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