Contrary to what might seem like basic reasoning, caregiving for an honored elder can actually be significantly more difficult if you have a close sibling to share the duty with, and much more difficult if you have a distant sibling involved.
The biggest reason is purely psychological; if you are the only child, you know you have to shoulder the burden alone. If you have siblings who could and should help, but do not, or if you have siblings who try but just get in the way over and over again, the frustration can drive you crazy.
Childhood Roles Repeat Themselves during Adulthood
Most of the adult children that care for aging parents are the same ones that were considered ‘compliant’ and ‘well-behaved’ during childhood. Conversely, the children who were the most criticized, least celebrated, or generally lost in the crowd as children are the ones most likely to (sometimes literally) “phone it in.”
Essentially, whatever you felt about your relationship with your parents when they were taking care of you, you are fairly likely to feel the same way when it comes time for the positions to reverse. And because it is generally very common for a family to agree on who the ‘favorite’ was, it is also very common for a family to entirely unconsciously agree on which child will take on the duties of caretaker, even if they never actually communicate with each other about the issue.
If you are the caretaker, this can seem radically unfair, especially if your life circumstances are not as conductive to caretaking as that of your sibling. For example, you may have a sibling that works from home and could easily spend a few hours a day working from mom’s house, but yet they insist you take off early from work every day and drive 45 minutes to be with her every afternoon. The only way to correct the situation, unfortunately, is to cause some strife; which is often not worth the effect it will have on your relationships with your siblings.
Finding a Balance
Even when there are multiple siblings who want to (or have to) work together to take care of their honored elders, it is almost never a fair distribution of effort. If for no other reason than one sibling has more kids of their own to care for, or lives further away, the amount of time, money, and energy they put in to taking care of aging parent is never going to be equitable.
This is the classic question of equality; do you try to arrange things so each person puts in the same amount of time/money/energy (fair expenditure), or so each person ends up in a situation where they can handle the expenditure that is asked of them (fair results)? Either way, someone is likely to find it unfair.
If the expenditures are fair, the one with the worst results will be unhappy, and if the results are fair, the one with the highest expenditures will be unhappy. Unfortunately, the only “right” answer is the one that everyone in your family can live with.
The State of the Estate
It is deeply unfortunate that, as an honored elder reaches the end of their lives, we have a tendency to spend more time thinking about their estate and correspondingly less time thinking about their needs. It happens to most of us, some earlier in the process (and more dramatically) than others.
The biggest reason it is unfortunate is that money matters have an ability to tear apart families faster and more decisively than most other issues. Money is a big issue, and the choice between paying for your aging parent’s quality-of-care and having inheritance left over for you and your siblings is more difficult than anyone wants it to be.
Fortunately, this issue has a relatively easy solution. Talk to a social worker, a geriatric care manager, or some other third-party that will not benefit from your parent’s medical expenditures and ask them to help you view the situation objectively. Then share their advice with your siblings and explain why you believe the family should choose the path they recommend.
Remember, no matter how awful your siblings seem to be treating your aging parents (and you), your siblings will still be there after the stress and strain of caretaking is over. Do your best to live at peace with your siblings and ensure your parents have the quality of life they deserve during their golden years, and everyone (including you) will benefit in the end.