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Slacker Siblings

Posted: October 15, 2021, 8:07AM

I just read an article in the e-zine Next Avenue on Slacker Siblings.  I can't tell you how many times I've heard caregivers lament their aloneness in their caregiving role despite having brothers and sisters.

Not all caregivers have "Slacker Siblings".  Some families share responsibilities and pull together for a loved one's care.  But having family who won't help is one of the more common issues. 

I've been a geriatric social worker for a LOT of years, working with caregivers, support groups, research projects, and long term care.   I know a lot of people who have walked the caregiving road or are now walking the caregiving journey.  Clients, caregivers, colleagues, and friends have shared experiences with me about having siblings but they are the sole caregivers for their person.  

The good news for those going through this is - it's all too common and you're not alone in having Slacker Siblings.  The bad news for those going through this is - it's all too common and it probably won't change.

As an only child, I didn't have to cajole siblings for their help.  The roads travelled in caring for my parents were long, difficult and lonely.  Watching them age, decline, and die were so difficult. When my mom died, I became an orphan. I was alone. 

But - I didn't have the added burdens that many caregivers feel. 

Caregivers with siblings have shared feelings of abandonment, disappointment, failed expectations, and being confronted with the realization that their siblings weren't who they thought they were....that their family wasn't what they thought it was.  

Caregivers have shared their feelings of despair when confronted with the realization that the cavalry (their family) isn't coming to offer help, that they alone will be the caregivers.

The article also talks of family meetings.  Family meetings can help you get your ducks in a row.  They can also serve to let primary caregivers know what they can expect from others (even if it's 'nothing'), and offer the opportunity for alternative assignments.  (Maybe a sibling can't or won't do personal care, but they will pay bills.)

Perhaps you won't get any help at all.  But at least you'll know.  You cannot force someone to help if they have no intention of doing so.  The information is grounding and helps you move on to get the job done.

Excuses abound.  "No time", "I work full time", "I have the kids to take care of", "my spouse won't let me", "I have my own issues", "You're doing such a good job", "You were always Mom's favorite...she'd want you to do this".  And on it goes.

So many families have been broken because of this.  Caregivers' resentments are wounds that may not heal.  Caregivers do 'divorce' their siblings and may not have any future involvement with the siblings.

Once the caregiving part of life's journey has passed, the caregiver must make a decision to move on and what that will look like with the family.  

Just know that it's a hard road and many others face the same challenges.

What have your experiences been?  Share!


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