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Practical Insights for Busy Caregivers

Caregiving doesn't have to make family tensions worse


December 17, 2016, by Pat Morden, Caregiver Exchange

Zena Olijnyk, her sister Darcy and her brother Orest cared for their mother for the last six years of her life. Zena admits that there was sometimes tension between the siblings. “Basically we’re very different people,” she says. “That made it hard at times. But there were three people with different personalities handling different parts of the job. And it worked.” Her mother lived in her own home until her death at the age of 92.

Families don’t always agree. The added stress of caregiving can make sibling rivalries and other family tensions worse. Siblings may have different ideas about what an aging parent needs and wants. Lifelong roles may shift and change. Old hurts may emerge. And yet, it’s a time when everyone must come together to provide the best possible care.

Experts say it’s important to start early, rather than waiting until your parent is in the emergency department. Consider holding a family meeting to talk about what challenges lie ahead, what needs to be done, and who will do it. Give everyone a chance to be heard. Be respectful of each person’s perspectives and needs.

Olijnyk says it’s important to match needs to the abilities and availability of caregivers. In her case, her sister lived with their mother and handled her everyday needs. Her brother helped financially, engaged her mother in social activities, and had the diplomatic skills needed to manage family tensions. Olijnyk handled doctors’ appointments and other practical matters. “If I was the brain, Orest was the heart, and Darcy was the hands!” Olijnk’s husband Tom and Orest’s wife Susan also played key roles.

A few other things to keep in mind:

  • Check out what other help is available in your community. Contact your local Community Care Access Centre to have your parent assessed for services. Explore volunteer services, day programs and senior centre programs here at
  • Clearly spell out what each sibling is responsible for, and write it all down.
  • Share information. Talk often.
  • Try to accept your siblings and your parents as they are, not as you wish they were. Be patient and compassionate.
  • Remember that parents sometimes tell different siblings different things.
  • When things get to be too much, ask for help clearly and calmly. Say exactly what you need done. Avoid anger and guilt.
Do you have questions about caregiving as a family? Do you have insights about managing family dynamics to share with other caregivers? Please email us – we’d love to talk to you!