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Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy?
How to Resolve the Most Common Dilemmas with Aging Parents
by Joseph A. Ilardo, PhD, LCSW, and Carole R. Rothman, PhD


My brother and sister won't offer to
help take care of Mom and Dad.


You are a 35-year-old, fifth-grade teacher, married, with two children, 7 and 5 years old. You have been helping your elderly parents, who live 20 minutes away from you, for the past two years by shopping for them twice a week and dropping in on Saturdays to help with the housework. You are growing tired of doing this, however, and are becoming resentful. In addition, your husband and children are beginning to complain about all the time you spend away from home. You would like more time to be with them and to be able to attend more of your youngsters' after-school and weekend activities. You also want more time to relax.
Your brother and sister, both older than you and also living nearby, have never offered to help, although they have complimented you on your patience and have acknowledged your hard work. Your sister enjoys your parents' company but talks constantly about the demands of her job as a marketing analyst and the long hours she has to work. Your brother, a stockbroker, has never been close to either parent and seldom visits them. Your parents seem to be satisfied with things as they are. You would like to get your siblings to shoulder some of the load, but you don't know how to approach them.

Clarify the Problem

1. Does everyone agree a problem exists?
Unfortunately, no one but you (and your husband and children) seem to feel there is a problem.

2. How urgent is the problem, really?
There are no immediate concerns about your parents' health and safety, but you know you can't continue being their sole caregiver indefinitely. You are on the verge of burnout. Therefore, you can't wait too long to find help.

3. What is behind your siblings' problematic behaviors?
At this point, you have no evidence that either sibling will refuse to help if asked. But they have reasons for not offering to become involved. Your sister is too swamped at work to be aware of anyone's needs but her own. She has no incentive to change, either, since your willingness to take care of your parents meets her needs. Your brother may see what you are doing as a woman's responsibility. In addition, since he has never been close to your parents, he is almost certainly more comfortable staying away as much as possible.

4. What's hooking you?
There is no doubt you are concerned about your parents' welfare. However, it is possible you have helped create your own predicament. To find out why, ask yourself how you ended up taking care of your parents in the first place. Are you always the one in the family who attends to everyone else's needs? Do you habitually put your own needs last? It is not unusual for people who behave this way to take on a helping role automatically and then find themselves becoming resentful and depressed when things become overwhelming.
It is also possible that you volunteered because you felt that, as a teacher, your time commitment to your job was not so great as your siblings', who may work longer hours and have less vacation time.
Lastly, you may feel gratified by being the "good" child, more caring than your siblings. Once you begin to play this role, it is hard to break out of it, even when it becomes tiresome.

5. Who must be included in problem-solving discussions?
In addition to your siblings, your parents should be involved. At the very least, you should let them know you need to cut down on the time you spend taking care of them and that you will discuss this with your brother and sister with an eye toward their sharing the responsibilities.

6. What is your goal?
Your goal is to reduce the amount of time you spend taking care of your parents so that you will have more time for yourself and your own family. Ideally, this will be done by persuading your siblings to share the responsibility for your parents' care.
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