Divvying Up Caregiver Duties


Caring for an aging parent is never easy, and it’s more difficult for the “sandwich generation,” who is also taking care of children of any age, too. If your mom or dad is suffering from Alzheimer’s or dementia, it’s especially difficult. Not only have you “lost” your mom’s sage advice and counsel when it comes to raising your own children, but you’re put in a position of caring for your own mother or father.

If you’re lucky enough to have siblings or other close relatives with which to share caregiving duties, it gets easier. Or does it? Even in a tight-knit family, division of caregiver duties can lead to disputes, arguments and resentment, if one person feels they are doing more than the others. Add the sticky situation of a potential inheritance, and rifts can be created that are not easy to mend.

Fortunately, as with most aspects of family life, the solution to dividing caregiver duties equitably lies in open, honest communication.

Start with a Family Meeting
Whether an aging parent is in assisted living, is staying with a child, or is still living in their own home, perhaps with nursing help that visits the home, there will be things that family caregivers need to do. And, chances are, there’s also a long list of chores that can be contracted out to other individuals without the parent feeling as if you don’t care.

For instance, Mom might look forward to her weekly grocery trip, and, in that case, it’s important for a family member to carve out time and take her each week. But maybe she actually dreads it. In this case, grocery delivery through Peapod or a similar service would be a logical solution.

One no-brainer task to hire out would be landscaping, including mowing the lawn weekly.

Once you’ve made your list of tasks, and culled it down to what needs to be done by family members, it’s time to divide up chores and visits in a way everyone can live with. Remember, even this aspect of planning can take time, as siblings may disagree on what needs to be done, and the list may change as parents grow older.

Let Each Caregiver Use their Strengths
In an ideal situation, caregivers would divide duties 50/50, with each doing what they are best at and enjoy the most. In reality, research shows that only 2 percent of U.S. siblings divide caregiver duties equally.

Obviously, geography and other family responsibilities will affect what each caregiver can do. Long-distance caregivers won’t be able to be with their parents every day, but maybe they can visit to give the primary caregiver a break, or even, if aging parents are okay to travel, give Mom and Dad a vacation away from home.

For siblings who are local, let everyone choose the tasks they like best or that are the most convenient for that person to perform. Discuss what’s left, and be willing to make compromises or even “trade” duties in a way that seems fair to everyone.

Keep the list on paper. When duties are written out and divided, it’s easy to see whether the split is 60/40, 50/50 or something that is much less fair fair to one sibling.

Be Flexible
Be willing to listen to your siblings reasons why they can’t do one thing or another. Everyone should be willing to rearrange their own family’s schedule to a degree, but not to the point where they will resent it or feel as if they are neglecting their own children. By the same token, one person should not have to “do it all.”

Take Your Time
If debates become too heated, or you and your siblings fall into old patterns of arguing, someone should steer the conversation back to the main goal: making sure your parents get the care they need in the best way possible. Planning sessions may take several hours, with breaks in between, so that everyone can “reset” before tempers flare. Re-visit arrangements every few months to evaluate whether or not your parents’ needs have changed and to make sure everyone feels the current plan is still working.