It’s your birthday, and mom, age 81, gives you a call. After pleasantries, she mentions how short-tempered your brother has been. She appreciates his help which allows her to remain home, but there is still more she needs – particularly companionship. She’d love to play cards with your brother or have him bring by the grandchildren, but he’s always in such a rush. Instead of confronting him, she listens to him complain about his day and says nothing. 

You call your brother, annoyed. He doesn’t mention your birthday but launches into a rant about mom. He’s missing work to bring her to appointments. The house is in need of serious repairs that she’s unwilling to pay for, so he spends his weekends acting as a handyman. Mom’s beginning to repeat herself and it’s driving him nuts. Your sister-in-law is annoyed that they can’t take a family vacation because mom won’t accept precautionary measures or temporary outsourced care. As you did a few months ago, you offer to visit during the next holiday weekend to lighten his load, but he still sounds sharp.

It’s no secret I’m often hired by adult children as they assume certain, if not all, responsibilities related to their parents. As can be imagined it’s a daunting task that makes the idea of receiving help from siblings or extended relatives welcomed. While everyone plans to contribute their fair share, logistically it’s impossible. Why? Because children spread their wings and move throughout the country. If a child does remain in their hometown I notice two opposite scenarios routinely play out:

  • The child is barely holding their own (for any number of reasons) and is not in a position to provide help.
  • The child feels obligated to jump into action by providing hands-on care. With time their role – and stress level – escalates.

Let’s focus on the second scenario where the child, or your sibling, is providing the lion’s share of support for an aging parent as described above. How should you react when a parent complains that your sibling is lashing out?

Before reading your brother the riot act, consider this…

Instead of criticizing his demeanor toward mom (and forgetting your birthday), talk about delegating the workload. It’s great he was able to keep mom home, but her needs have gone beyond his scope and for too long. Your offer of occasional help is considerate, but not practical. He needs boots on the ground, and the most efficient way to obtain that type of help often comes with a transition out of the home. In one move you’re eliminating home maintenance, caregiving, and driving from his plate. His visit with mom can focus on spending quality time together and he can also be more mindful of her overall situation. Too many times the big picture can be missed when caregivers are solely focused on surviving the day.

Therefore, keep good on your suggestion to visit over the next holiday weekend, but make the most of your time by reviewing care options and interviewing professionals that can help in the transition. Figure out what you’re able to do virtually, like bill-pay. Take an afternoon to go through your old room and clear out forgotten belongings. With no shortage of work to be done, you’ll quickly realize that your brother wasn’t a jerk, just overwhelmed.

That’s great, but there’s zero chance mom will agree to change anything…

I get it, a move or outsourcing work is easier said than done. It’s almost like everyone involved has tunnel vision to make things work as-is. But don’t fool yourselves into thinking your parent hasn’t realized their living situation is less than ideal. This is a classic case of the devil you know vs. the devil you don’t. You absolutely must make sure they’re educated on their options. The sooner the better. Read how in my post, “When Parents Won’t Accept Help.”