Q: My mother needs round-the-clock care. I live on the East Coast and my sisters live in the Midwest. We often disagree on what's best for mother. We all love her, but our differences are pulling us apart. Any suggestions?
A: Long-distance caregivers, such as your sisters, often try to make up in assertiveness what they lack in geographic proximity. That can be bracing — and sometimes annoying — for the caregivers who are on the front line. I suggest the following steps:
- First, tell your sisters that you appreciate their frequent input because it shows how much they care. Remind them that you love them.
- Tell them that it is in Mom's best interests that you all work together to pull in the same direction and that it is necessary for you to have similar views of Mom's condition and needs. Share all medical notes — e.g., doctors' reports, discharge summaries — with them so that you are all working from the same information. Set up a conference call with your mother's doctor if there are still disagreements about her situation.
- Remind them that teams work most effectively when players have defined roles that complement each other. Divvy up the care tasks that can be done from a distance — for example, paying bills — and those that require hands-on involvement.
- Invite them to visit often to get a closer view of Mom to better inform their opinions and perspectives.
- Don't let caregiving consume your sisterly relationships. Remember birthdays. Ask your siblings about their other family relationships (e.g., husbands, children). Try to have fun together. It will create greater good will for the hard but honorable work of caring for Mom.
Barry J. Jacobs is a clinical psychologist, family therapist and the author of the book The Emotional Survival Guide for Caregivers — Looking After Yourself and Your Family While Helping an Aging Parent (Guilford, 2006).