Dear Dr. Yael,
I am posing a question about when siblings disagree on care for elderly parents, with or without alzheimer’s, who has the final say? Is it a vote or is it the decision of the primary caregiver that is aware of all the facts and nuances, some of which cannot always be shared, in order to preserve the parent’s dignity?
What is the role of the in-law children, especially if there are conflicting opinions regarding care for the parents? How much of a say do they have?
What makes me upset is when all the siblings take for granted that I will stay home when it’s vacation time. I would like to be given the courtesy of letting me know that they are going away and ask if it’s okay. I know that we can also get away when they come back, but I still feel like Cinderella when they all take off and leave me to handle everything, even though it’s a given that I am the primary caregiver. I just need acknowledgement from them, that they can only get away, because I am staying home. A little appreciation goes a long way.
All that being said, it is a privilege to do for our parents in this way. Especially, after all they have done for us, in the last half century and more. However, it’s hard to receive these zechusim on our parents’ suffering.
We have come into our roles of caregivers by default. Who would have dreamed our parents would need us in this way in their final years. Especially as children of survivors, who did not see this role through their own aging grandparents. We have no role models to follow.
Even though this is a stressful time for all of us, baruch Hashem, throughout we are able to enjoy simchos by our children and grandchildren, making sure not to miss any out of town family events. Our children and grandchildren help to give us the balance. Balance is the key.
Please give me some ideas on how to handle this situation. If you can share with us some situations that will make me feel some support, it would help. Knowing other people struggle as well lessens the burden.
Firstly, kudos to you for doing this special mitzvah, despite the difficulties it comes with. Being the primary caregiver is always overwhelming and generally makes us juggle a lot of different things. Having siblings who don’t seem to appreciate us makes things even harder, though I’m sure your siblings appreciate you much more than you realize. Most siblings feel guilty when one sibling is stuck with the majority of the caregiving and instead of admiring this and showing appreciation to the sibling that is doing the majority of the work, they generally pretend that it’s not a big deal to help minimize their feelings of guilt. It’s very possible that if you find the courage to talk to your siblings, they will tell you how much they appreciate you and will make more of an effort to check in with you and pitch in more.
Perhaps you can call a family meeting and start with saying that although it is a privilege for you to be able to take care of your parents, things are becoming more difficult and you feel you need more help. If you can be specific in what you need (weekend respite, help with doctors visits, help with paperwork, etc.), this will make dividing the work more feasible. Hopefully your siblings will be open to taking over specific tasks and making your job more doable. This will make you feel less resentful and will give you some breathing space.
If your siblings are not open to helping you or say that they cannot do so because of time constraints, money constraints, or other limiting factors, then you may understandably feel very upset with them. However, these negative emotions will only harm you in the long run. If you are able to talk yourself out of them and let go of destructive emotions that only hinder what you can do for your aging parents, then you will be in a much better place. Letting go of the anger, resentment and jealousy that not only can come between you and your siblings, but also can harm your own well being, will be a life-changing decision. If you are able to take this very lofty step, you will likely have a sense of inner peace which will benefit you greatly.
I hope that you can find a way to talk to your siblings so they can hear you and be responsive. I hope they will learn to share in your work and lighten your load. But if you cannot get through to them, even in a positive and loving manner, then try your hardest to rise above. The sechar you will get for the work you do and for the machlokes that you avoided will be unbelievable!
Hatzlocha in this difficult task and Hashem should give you much bracha as a reward for all that you do!