“But things in this life change very slowly, if they ever change at all”
The Eagles from Sad Cafe
In David Rico’s book “The Five Things We Cannot Changeone of the immutable laws of living on earth is that “life is unfair.”? Nowhere is this more obvious than in the interaction of siblings over the issue of their aging parents. We are tempted to believe that when adult children are asked to rally around an aging parent, the unresolved sibling issues of childhood would be set aside, and “the kids” would stand ready to partner for the common good. The truth is usually far different and more painful. What we see time and again is that the inconvenient occasion of aging parents simply reconvenes a family drama in which the players continue their previous roles and with an all too familiar outcome.
As much as we wish it were different, family roles for the most part are cut in stone. This is not a lament but simply a fact. Birth order, hair color, personality type, and timing all cast us in a role from our earliest years that follows like a shadow. If we start out as the outsider, the favorite, or the conscientious one, that’s were you will usually find us at sixty. How we feel about this is less important then its tactical significance. Knowing this fact about family systems allows us important choices when we find ourselves in an involuntary alliance with our siblings to address the predictable dilemmas of our aging parents dilemmas. How?
First, it allows us to stop trying to change our siblings who for the most part really resent us for having the audacity to think that we need to “fix” them. Most of us have been trying this from childhood with poor results.
Second, it allows us to accurately access to what our siblings will and will not do. While we may think guilt, shame, anger, and manipulation can help us to get them to carry their weight, this strategy never works in the long run. Even worse, it takes a heavy toll on us and them. Better to be blunt and admit that if their contribution is zero, then zero it is and move on.
Lastly, it allows us to invest our time and money in creating a non-family support system for our aging parents. One of the essential strategies for being successful with our aging parents is a concerted, relentless effort to piece together a support system. It is journey filled with false starts, dead ends, and false hopes. But it is also a journey of numbers. A steady, disciplined effort at building relationships yields good people, people that our aging parents need in their lives. This should be the logo on the T-shirt of every adult child working with an aging parent: steady effort.
If you are blessed with cooperative, helpful, and collaborative siblings count your blessings and let them know how much they mean to you. If your siblings abandon you to fend for yourself, then use the occasion to enhance your networking skills. Either way, you get the friendships, support, and resources you need to deliver a “steady effort.”