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Being the daughter

Tomorrow I get to be the daughter. 

Actually I guess I’ve always been the daughter, but this is in a different way. Tomorrow I’m taking my mom to a very important day of testing and gathering information relating to her current health issues. Yes, I’m taking time off work; I’m helping drive; I’ve made sure dad is going to be an active part in the day; I’ve made sure they are bringing all their information with them.  

We’re hoping to gather information, receive medical advice and learn how to be proactive to make sure mom’s health is taken care of in the best possible way. It’s something a daughter needs to be involved in. 

I’ve always loved being the daughter, especially since I’m the only girl, but this new role is something if I were truthful, I’d rather avoid. I don’t remember a lot about being the daughter during school age stuff, just the normal rules I didn’t like to hear. 

I don’t remember a lot about being the daughter when I was single, dating, first out on my own. I do however remember a lot about being the daughter when I was first married, first running a home and first raising children. 

Being the daughter then was a lot of communication with mom. I seemed to be constantly in need of advice.  Advice ranged from recipes to diaper rash and children’s illnesses to the right color of paint for the bedroom. Being the daughter was a great spot to be. Mom’s advice was always so valuable.

As the years have passed I have begun seeing the roles reverse, ever so slightly.  Sometimes it’s mom saying, “What couch do you think I should buy?” or “Do you think I should take your dad to the doctor?”  I don’t think I’ll ever quit asking for recipes, but now she asks for a few of mine also.

Now being the daughter means beginning the journey of making decisions about medical care. I have two brothers also. I’m the oldest and about five hours away.  My middle brother lives very close, and my youngest brother is about four hours away. Even though our lives are in different places now, the one thing we still have in common is mom and dad, and the fact that they are aging. 

In my job, I have seen many times  that caring for a senior loved one and working with siblings can lead to family strife. Caregiver stress, life-and-death medical crises, financial problems and property disputes often become part of a family’s caregiving story. Relationships between adult brothers and sisters can suffer as a result. How can we make sure this doesn’t happen to us?

I was very excited to read about the research developed into a program called the 50-50 RuleSM. Research states strategies exist to help families work better. They result in making decisions together, dividing the workload and teamwork. But these skills are often difficult to acquire, especially in the middle of a caregiving crisis.  This program helps provide these strategies for overcoming sibling differences. The end result is better care for parents.

The 50-50 RuleSM refers to the average age (50) when siblings are caring for their parents as well as the need for brothers and sisters to share in the plans for care 50-50. 

Research conducted reveals that an inability to work together often leads to one sibling becoming responsible for the bulk of caregiving in 43 percent of families. And that can result in the deterioration of relationships with brothers and sisters.

Family caregiving can be stressful. 

Certain situations can make the life of caregiving siblings even more difficult. 

1. Illness: A senior loved one who becomes ill or faces declining health can leave a family facing all sorts of potentially difficult issues. Who provides the additional care? Is there a team approach or does one sibling bear the brunt of the caregiving?  Family members’ differing opinions and the changing needs of a senior can generate tension.

2. Money: Money matters often complicate life for seniors as well as their adult children. The recent recession left many older adults with no savings. Families can be forced to make tough caregiving decisions when their loved ones’ finances become an issue.

3. Inheritance: While some families contend with a lack of funds to provide care for their loved ones, others have the temptation of a family inheritance influencing their decisions. If one sibling is encouraging a parent to spend money and another is coaxing that parent to save money, trouble is sure to follow.

4. Distance: While absence may make the heart grow fonder, it certainly doesn’t make life easier for a family caregiver. The siblings who live in the same town or city as their parents may be stuck with most of the caregiver work. Siblings who live far away can feel left out or, if they do speak up, viewed as intruders by the primary family caregiver.  

5. Stress: Life is stressful and family caregiving oftentimes makes it more so. Adult caregivers who have started a new job, are raising children or caring for their own spouse can soon become overwhelmed when elderly family members need help. 

According to research, those who are bearing the brunt of caregiving may resent siblings who are unable or unwilling to help. In fact, 46 percent of caregivers who say their sibling relationships have deteriorated say their brothers and sisters are unwilling to help. 

Even the best of circumstances can cause a strain for a family dealing with the issues of an aging parent. That’s where the free 50-50 RuleSM guide will help brothers and sisters struggling with any number of topics. The guide addresses issues from trying to divide care and work better as a team to dealing with end-of-life issues. 

The 50-50 RuleSM guide is the cornerstone of this program and features real-life situations and how to deal with them from an expert in the field, Dr. Ingrid Connidis from the University of Western Ontario. 

She says that relationships among siblings should be protected. “Like all relationships, siblings have a history,” Connidis noted. “Whatever happened in the past influences what happens in the present. Regardless of their circumstances, most siblings do feel a responsibility to care for parents that is built from love. And that’s a good place to start, optimistically and assuming the best.”

The 50-50 RuleSM program features such practical advice as:

1. Talk and listen. Research shows that parents care a lot about maintaining independence to the point they also forfeit getting more support. That’s why it’s important that families communicate, preferably before they are in the throes of caregiving. 

2. Research options. When siblings have identified the types of services, interventions or care options that their senior needs, they can research organizations and resources that can help them meet those needs. 

3. Plan ahead. When needs and resources are identified, siblings will have a better idea what will be required. They can contract for outside resources such as meals on wheels or in-home care. In that case, not as much hands-on care will be required of the family, but someone will need to coordinate that schedule. Make a plan of all that the family will be doing as well as what services will be provided by outside contractors.

4. Be flexible. Needs of a senior change as they age. So do the lives of siblings. Rather than insist that all of the caregiving tasks be divided equally, consider a division of labor that takes into account each family member’s interests and skills, as well as their availability.

5. Be honest. If it’s getting to be too much for the primary caregiver, make sure siblings know that help is needed. Discuss specific tasks that a brother or sister can help with such as grocery shopping or placing online orders. Long-distance siblings should check in often with the primary caregiver to see how it’s going. 

The guide and a website at offer a variety of additional tips and resources for siblings. 

Yes, tomorrow I get to be the daughter, the person I really want to be for my mom and dad. But I also want to be a good sibling and am going to study this 50-50 RuleSM. After all, mom and dad deserve to have all three of us working together for their best interests. Here we go, we’ll work hard to make this journey 50-50.

For a free copy of the 50-50 RuleSM Booklet, contact me at 824.0077.

DEB CRANNY is the executive director at Home Instead Senior Care in Brainerd.