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Bursack: Sibling caregiver criticism ramps up over holiday visits

Carol Bradley Bursack

Dear Carol: My 93-year-old mother lives in a nursing home and I visit her several times during the work week, more over the weekends. She seems as content as she is capable of being and she’s getting excellent care. My two siblings only visit Mom for the holidays. I understand this since they are each on different coasts and traveling is both time-consuming and expensive. What’s hard to handle is their pressure to have me take Mom into my home. They seem unable to grasp the idea that I can’t give her the care that she needs while I’m working, and we don’t have the money to hire 24/7 in-home help. They stay in motels when they’re here and we get together at the nursing home for holiday meals. This meal can be fun, but afterward, while Mom is resting, they start to pressure me. I’m nearly sick over the thought of going through this whole ordeal one more time, and I’m running out of willingness to keep explaining reality to them. Do I somehow owe them more?— PE.

Dear PE: This is upsetting. I’m so sorry that you have to deal with such an insensitive and/or ignorant family. It’s understandable that distances, responsibilities and finances can all prevent people from traveling to help out a sibling caregiver. However, when that’s the case, the uninvolved siblings should show support and appreciation for the sibling or siblings who do the caregiving. Assuming visitors don’t see signs of abuse or neglect, they should avoid giving “advice” unless they actually have something valuable to offer or their opinion is asked for.

Quite frankly, many of the caregivers with whom I’m in nearly daily contact would have written off your siblings and told them to stay away if they can’t be supportive. For your mom’s sake, though, I’d hate to have you do that unless your siblings become so aggressive about this that it’s abusive. If that becomes the case, you may have no choice.

It’s possible that your siblings feel guilty and they are trying to soothe their guilt by offering “help” in the form of advice. If you can look at it from that point of view, you may find it easier to get through this difficult season. Yes, I’m suggesting that you give even more than you already are, and many people will disagree with me, but I believe that sometimes shifting our view to look at what drives the other person’s behavior can help us cope with difficult situations.

If you’ve read this column regularly, you’ll know what’s coming next. Please join a support group online or in person. You can check your Area Agency on Agency for suggestions for local groups.

Remind yourself that your siblings’ behavior is not about you and your caregiving. It’s about their self-doubts. You can refuse to see them at all, or you can use a coping strategy. Whatever you do, remember that you’re an outstanding daughter and caregiver. Keep that in your heart, and you’ll manage.

Carol Bradley Bursack is a veteran caregiver and an established columnist. She is also a blogger, and the author of “Minding Our Elders: Caregivers Share Their Personal Stories.” Bradley Bursack hosts a website supporting caregivers and elders at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carolbradleybursack@mindingourelders.com.