When Children Assist Aging Parents

When parents get older and begin needing help, usually they turn to their children first – or the children take the initiative to start providing more assistance to their parents.  But there has probably never been an exactly even split of duties.  Usually one child does the lion’s share of the caregiving, and the others are either passive beneficiaries of the caretaker child’s efforts, or resentful because they have been bypassed on the decisions.  It is unfortunate but natural that such circumstances can re-ignite old frictions, rivalries, and other bad feelings that are left over from childhood.

One way to avoid these problems is by having conversations among the siblings that are purposefully limited to discussing only the parental issues at hand.  If everyone agrees to discuss only what mom or dad needs, and determine who has the time, willingness, energy and ability to fulfill this need, it can avoid problems.

Also, if one sibling is doing most of the work, it is perfectly acceptable – in fact, it can be highly beneficial to all parties – to pay that sibling.  Some parents feel their children should not be compensated for helping them, but we feel that’s misguided.  By paying the child who’s doing all the work, everything feels more equitable.  The child who is doing the work doesn’t feel taken advantage of, and the children who aren’t doing the work don’t have to feel guilty for not pulling their weight.  It’s a win-win for everyone.

I know this firsthand because that’s the way we are doing it in my family.  My sister lives closest of the three of us to my father and has been doing most of the visiting and money managing for years.  I suggested that she take compensation, and she agreed.  I was very happy she did so, because not only does she deserve it, I’m thankful that she is willing to put so much time and energy into helping our dad. Fortunately, she is also very capable at everything she is doing.  My brother also readily agreed, and now we all feel more comfortable with the situation.

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