When Sibling Resentment Complicates Caregiving Duties


eileen and kate

by Caring.com’s Carol O’Dell

“Caring for our parents is something I thought would unite us, not tear our family apart,” says Kathryn Hammond, a 55-year-old caregiver who lives in northeastern Florida.

The Hammond family’s struggle started out with the same challenges that so many other families face — caring for two aging parents, both of whom are facing serious medical issues.

“Mom has dementia,” Kathryn said. “We’ve brought in some home health aides, but, honestly, she’s getting to be handful. Dad is mentally sharp, but he had a stroke a few years ago that has left him with slurred speech. He’s in his 80s and also has some mild heart disease. He can’t take care of Mom like he used to.”

Caregiving duties naturally fell to the two Hammond daughters. “My sister, Jeanette, and I both work,” Kathryn noted. “She’s married and has a husband and daughter. I’m single and the oldest, so I’ve taken on much of the hands-on responsibilities.”

The tenuous arrangement took on a new slant, however, when the father asked Kathryn to be executor of his will. The simple request seemed to release a lot of unspoken resentment within the Hammond family

“Dad is a fair man, and his assets are evenly divided,” Kathryn explained. “We’ve talked about this as a family for years, but when Dad announced that I would be the executor, my sister was hurt, and then that hurt seemed to turn into resentment.”

“She even told a cousin that she didn’t expect to ever see any money now that I was in charge,” Kathryn continued. “When I realized Jeanette was so upset, I suggested to Dad that he hire a trustee so as to avoid any further problems. Dad, so far, has refused. He feels as if Jeanette doesn’t trust him, and now he’s upset.”

“For the first few months I called and pleaded with my sister to talk this out with me, come to a place of agreement. Now she won’t even take my calls. She still sees my parents, but not when I’m around. We didn’t even have Christmas together as a family. My heart is sick over this! I can’t believe that our family would be affected this way.”

Kathryn sees no easy solutions to the friction that is tormenting her family. “What really worries me is that Mom’s dementia is only going to get worse, and who knows how long Dad will stay healthy. We have years of care ahead of us, filled with even more tough decisions. I’m hoping that we can, some day, sit down and work through all this. I hope we can get back to being the family I know we can be.”

What words of insight does Kathryn offer other families?

  • Find an impartial advisor, trustee, or elder-law attorney to help you with critical decisions, especially those involving finances.
  • Set up a schedule of monthly family meetings to address all concerns.
  • In between those monthly meetings, get back to being a family. Continue to celebrate birthdays and holidays, even through the difficult times.
  • Go into caregiving with your eyes wide open. That way, you won’t be surprised when issues come up. Families argue, and adults rarely see eye to eye. It helps to remember that some drama is par for the course.
  • Even if someone gets hurt, resentful or angry, it doesn’t mean you have to feel that way just because they do.
  • Surround yourself with caregiving support — friends, other caregivers, online support groups, whatever allows you to vent, ask questions and hopefully learn from other caregivers’ experiences.

Carol O’Dell is a contributing editor for Caring.com, a leading online destination for caregivers seeking information and support. She is the author of Mothering Mother: A Humorous and Heartbreaking Memoir, a book that started out as a journal of the sweet and funny moments, along with the frustrations, guilt and regret, of caring for her mother through the physical challenges and progressive dementia of Parkinson’s disease.

The names in this article have been changed to protect the family’s privacy.

4 Responses to “When Sibling Resentment Complicates Caregiving Duties”

  1. gloria swing says:

    I will be 78 on sunday 10-27-2013 I feel in the middle as my oldest, my power of attorney, treats me like I don’t know anything, I don’t walk very well anymore but I can drive, I contacted an attorney, I don’t know how, it may have been on the computer. she thinks they are trying to take advantage of me, I feel that both my youngest and oldest children want money that i’m leaving them.they have indicated they don’t want me to buy stuff. I feel my hands are tied. my youngest son’s wife is an RN and runs that family, my daughter wants me to stop buying and I feel she wants more left when I die, my daughter is telling my dil what to do and I feel she is running everything, she wants my youngest son to disregard what his wife says and she wants my youngest son to put me first, I don’t think so, I think he ought to put his wife first it feels like a division is taking place while i’m still alive and coherent!

  2. LL says:

    Something wrong with this picture. If Mom or Dad wants one child to be the executor, that’s their choice. It doesn’t mean that another child is loved any less. If kids start to feel resentful, it may be understandable. But – they should talk it out amongst themselves, get therapy – whatever. And move on. None of this should be played out if front of the parent. It’s all about the money, and that’s what’s disgusting. If their main concern is the parent, then none of this is all that important. Let him or her live in peace and with love in later life.

  3. sjs says:

    I am a 24/7 live in caregiver for my 93 year old mother who did turn her affairs over to a trust dept. at a bank, because she knew the jealousy which would insue. Everything has a paper trail, and still spending money on Mom seems to be the biggest problem, I’m talking about general things to keep up her daily life, new shoes, new pajama’s, etc…….why can’t children see the money is not theirs until the will/trust says it is….I feel they should be happy that their mother is being taken care of, she can remain in her own home, is happy, content, and safe. One son told her that if she runs out of money, he washes his hands of her. Her trust says I should be paid a salary what is reasonable for the care she needs. I did not accept that until two years ago, when dementia took over. I only get paid for 40 hours a week, the rest is daughter time. I get no vacation, relief, or help from my siblings. It can be tough to watch your parent slowly go down. But I thank the good Lord that I’m able to keep her out of the nursing home, we will be ok!

  4. stupid says:

    I feel very alone, I am the youngest in our family, I took care of my mom when she had cancer, now I have had my dad for 3 years, I do everything. MY siblings pop in when they feel like it, un announced. I am tryng to raise kids, run them around, and be here for my dad. He can not carry anything, very little on his little tray for his walker, and of course nothing hot! I have not had a vacation with my family in over 10 years and its sad. YET I hear how my brothers went here, and my sister went there, and yet their only response is you wanted him to live with you. NOW they are telling other family members that I will not let them see my dad at the holidays. All I said is he does not leave the house, could we have it here? I will not leave him alone on a holiday so now I am the bad one…I get about 400 a month for all his care, yet I probably spend that just in the things he needs, so the rest comes out of my empty pocket…lol. If I could do it over, I would NOT have taken him in, it is really tough having someone in your home, that you have to make sure someone is with him at all times. Making sure if you want to go out that someone will be here with him.