Prevent Sibling Squabbles When Caring for a Parent Undergoing Chemotherapy

By Stacey Feintuch
Reviewed by Lillie Shockney, RN, BS, MAS

As kids, you and your siblings fought over toys or TV time. Now that you’re older, the quarrels have changed, especially if you’re the caregiver for a parent undergoing chemo: The issues now are deeply rooted.

According to a study by AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, only one in 10 caregivers said other family members shared the responsibilities equally or without conflict. One of the biggest sources of strife? Often, the sibling who lives closest to Mom or Dad or has the most free time winds up being the primary caretaker. But after a while, the primary caretaker can start to resent the brothers and sisters who want to help but live farther away, work longer hours or are just too busy. Other common causes of tension include disagreements about how to proceed after a medical test or how to handle finances.

How to Get Along
Unfortunately, many families fight about caregiving. Remember that fighting with one another will only hinder your ability to care for your loved one undergoing chemo. Luckily, you and your siblings can find common ground and keep the attention where it belongs—on giving Mom or Dad the best care possible—by following these tips:

Be flexible. People’s lives can change—yours, your parent’s and your siblings’. What your parent or in-law needs this week may change the next. You or a sibling may have lots of free time now, but that may not be the case down the road, so be sure to regularly discuss the distribution of caregiving tasks.

Hold regular family meetings. This can be done by phone, in person or with a video chat program like Skype. Focus the discussion on your parent, not on one another. If you take your mother-in-law to the oncologist, tell the family how the appointment went. Calmly discuss issues such as bills or chores. Even a sibling who’s busy or lives across the country can help with tasks scheduling oncologist appointments.

Share how you feel. It’s likely that the primary caretaker knows everything that’s happening, but they shouldn’t resent a sibling who doesn’t know the details about your loved one’s chemotherapy. Instead, make sure to keep everyone in the loop, providing updates (consider a weekly email blast) about what’s happening with your parent. And don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it, such as everyone can rotate taking your loved one to doctor’s appointments.

Decide how big issues will be handled. Dealing with healthcare or finances related to chemotherapy can be tricky, so, if possible, ask your parent to designate a decision maker. Otherwise, think about whom your parent would choose to be in charge of these issues. Will the primary caregiver make all the decisions, or will another person share in the decision making?

Figure out finances. Finances during chemotherapy treatment are an issue that causes a lot of fights. Someone needs to be in charge of the bills coming in and going out. If the parents’ financial resources are limited, everyone may need to pitch in.

Pool information with one another. Parents tell their kids about different issues and thoughts, so don’t rely on a single point of view. Remember that each sibling has a different perspective on Mom and Dad (it’s affected by birth order, parent/child relationship and other factors).

Still can’t get along? Find a family mediator or counselor to help you work through these tough times. Sometimes an outside party is the best way to help address issues fairly and objectively. It will also ensure that everyone’s voice is heard.

Whatever happens, try to maintain a healthy relationship with your siblings. Your brothers and sisters will likely be around after your parent passes away. Work together today to ensure a strong bond in the future.

And remember that your parent or in-law needs peace and a low-stress environment. So try your best to get along, even if it’s only temporary.

Published March 2014

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