Your caregiving experience with stepsiblings will likely mirror your overall experience with your blended family. Do you think of them as family members or adversaries? Do you think of your stepparent as a parent or a stepmonster? Some blended families resemble The Brady Bunch and function as well as, or better than, a biological family unit. Others resemble the Hatfields and the McCoys — under one roof.
A 2010 Pew Research study found that 42 percent of respondents had at least one steprelative. While 85 percent of natural children feel an obligation to lend financial support or serve as caregivers to their parents, only 56 percent of stepchildren report that they feel the same obligation.
Statistics notwithstanding, many blended families ace the challenge of sharing caregiver duties, so let’s look at the practices they use. Draw from their successful methods so that you and your stepsiblings can find a way to take care of your aging parents — together.
1. Find a Way to Get Along
If you don’t care for your stepsiblings, find a way to get along well enough to work together for your senior. Caregiving takes an emotional toll; try not to add to the stress. The health and well-being of your common parent should be enough to cast aside your differences and share caregiving responsibilities. This is not about you or about them — it’s about your senior.
If you really can’t get along, consider the following:
- If conversations end in arguments, communicate as much as possible through text messages. The character limit leaves little room to annoy or insult your stepsibling.
- Focus on the task at hand: the care of your senior.
- Keep your differences out of the public sphere, especially out of social media.
- Show respect, even if you don’t like one another.
2. Determine Your Senior Family Member’s Preferences
The Family Caregiver Alliance (FCA) urges blended families to find out the recipient’s wishes early. You and your stepsiblings probably have different opinions regarding your parent’s or stepparent’s care, so it’s important to let your senior be the final arbiter in advance. This will help you not only honor your loved one’s wishes, but also avoid tension with your stepsiblings.
3. Consider and Define Caregiver Responsibilities
Blended families face many of the same challenges as natural families while caregiving. The FCA reminds caregivers not to assume who will do what based on past roles or anything other than a frank discussion to set ground rules. The primary caregiver may prefer emotional support to a position that requires her to delegate tasks. Use the FCA’s checklist for sibling caregivers to help you create an agenda for the initial family meeting and to help you get through it without incident.
4. Set Up a Joint Online Calendar
An online calendar can serve two purposes for a caregiver: Use it to track your senior’s appointments, as well as which sibling is responsible for accompanying him and which days siblings are unavailable.
5. Get Support
When the going gets rough, get support from a community or a professional. Start by checking out the resources at Lotsa Helping Hands, a community for caregivers.
By focusing on the task rather than past differences, you can provide quality care for your senior. A little civility and common decency go a long way toward smoothing ruffled feathers, and you never know: The joint caregiving experience could foster closer relationships in your blended family.