- Millions of people provide unpaid care for loved ones with many caring for an elderly parent.
- Often one sibling is left to take on most of the burden and this can cause resentment.
- Here, three women explain how becoming a carer for an elderly parent has affected their sibling relationships and family dynamics.
"Some siblings want to take on the role while others say, 'I can't because I have this happening!' Most people slip into the role because of their circumstances - they're the sibling who isn't married, isn't working, and doesn't have children," says Rosemary Warmington, CEO of Carers SA.
"Sometimes, siblings think it's just a matter of cooking and making a bed and they don't understand the emotional demands.
There's also a financial impact if a carer needs to cease work, or they may be stretched between a job, their own family, financial demands and the demands of caring."The best outcome is when siblings have a plan, they work out at what point another sibling will step in, they understand the caring role and they all contribute."
"MY SIBLINGS ALWAYS HAD REASONS FOR NOT BEING AVAILABLE"
Miriam*, 49, from Melbourne moved home to live with her parents when her father became ill. He died in December and Miriam has remained in her parents' home to look after her mother.
She is the oldest of five siblings. "My dad was diagnosed with heart problems three years ago and he gradually deteriorated. He'd had diabetes for years too and had been a heavy smoker. His body just began breaking down. He'd always been the patriarch and he was determined to remain at home rather than go into a nursing home. But he was in and out of hospital and I was always the one mum called - not because I'm the oldest or the favourite but because my siblings always had reasons for not being available," she says.
One sibling lives overseas, so she couldn't help. But Mariam's other sister and two brothers have older children and partners who are capable of doing their share.
"What hurts most is that Dad didn't recognise how much I did for him. I moved out of my home to be there for him - dealing with his anger and frustration as he became less mobile and less able to do things around the house. But whenever my siblings visited him for an hour, it was as if they'd given him the world. My brothers dealt with Dad's palliative care team. In their eyes I had no place discussing that," Mariam shares.
"I was with Dad at night when he'd pray for an end to his suffering but my brothers dismissed my input and prolonged his life rather than letting him go quickly and peacefully. Mum is frail and can't be left alone and my siblings expect me to care for her. When I said it was someone else's turn, they said I was 'selfish and disrespectful to Mum. So I've stayed - simply because I love my parents. But I have little to do with my siblings. If they visit, I leave. Mum is frail and can't be left alone and my siblings expect me to care for her.
"MY BROTHER SAID, IT HAS TO BE YOU"
Emily*, 53, from Adelaide, cares for her father who has been in a nursing home for two years. Emily also cared for her mother at home before she died. Her older brother has provided little or no support.
"I have a partner and his home is my escape and normality. Our relationship went through a difficult patch. Caring for Dad was overwhelming and there wasn't much time or emotional energy left. But my siblings have no respect for our relationship - we're not married, so it doesn't count," Emily says.
"Sharing the physical and emotional care of Mum and Dad would have made life so much easier, but my siblings saw my life and commitments as unimportant and dispensable. I can't forgive them for that. I quit work in 2011 to look after Mum and Dad. I'd drop my daughter at school and then go to my parents' house until I collected my daughter at 3.30 pm. My brother wasn't involved from the start. Mum and Dad would get angry because four or five days would pass without him calling them. He simply said to me, 'I don't do well looking after old people. It has to be you! He didn't have time, he had to work. So I had no choice."
Emily's mum passed away in 2014, and her dad went into a nursing home.
"There's never been any recognition from my brother that I gave up work for Mum and Dad. He and I had a distant relationship before, but we were always civil. Now it is more complicated. He was concerned about our parents' financial affairs - he was worried that I might get more of their money than him. There was jealousy because I knew how much money they had, but I needed to know because I did their banking and paid their bills," she explains.
"I visit Dad for two or three hours every day. I don't know how often my brother visits. Sometimes I think he's going in to visit, so I don't see Dad and then I find out he didn't go and I feel like a terrible daughter.My brother is married, works, and has a normal life. He's been able to go on holidays with his family because he knows I've been there to look after Mum and Dad. I haven't had a holiday since my husband left 14 years ago because I have my daughter to care for, too, and she has a disability. My friends are a great help. When I have a carer for my daughter, we get together and laugh and joke and don't talk about what goes on at home - it's my release. The responsibilities need to be shared - one person can't do it all the time. But my brother hasn't been there to help me."
Karen*, 46, from Sydney, cares for her 81-year-old mother who moved into Karen's home after suffering a stroke in 2013. Karen also cares for her teenage niece.
"The stroke didn't change Mum's personality but she can no longer manage her finances and she's wheelchair-bound. I lived close by but when she had the stroke, Mum moved into my home. I'm used to caring. Mum and I cared for my father for several years before he died. I was living at home then and in my 20s," says Karen.
Her sister, Rachel*, has drug problems and has never been there for their mum or for her daughter, Enger, which is why Karen and her mother raised Karen's niece.
"It never entered my head to ask Rachel to help with Mum. Once I asked her to go to the hospital to help feed Mum her dinner, but when I visited later that evening, her dinner was cold. Rachel didn't show up. It was the last time I asked her for help. She can't be relied on - Mum, her daughter and I are not her priority," Karen says.
"I would have nothing to do with my sister if it weren't for Mum and my niece. I don't like her as a human being and when Mum passes, I doubt I'll have much to do with her. We're strangers. Mum would have done anything for me, so I'm perfectly okay about doing anything for her, but I'm angry that Rachel doesn't help. I'm not married and I don't have children and I think I'm missing out on freedom. There is anger for what I am missing out on, too, because I have no freedom. I've been dating someone for three years and we catch up a couple of times a week. Sometimes I feel guilty about that, but I have to look after myself. I don't want to come out of this experience feeling bitter."
Have you been looking after your parents of elderly family members during this time? Tell us about it here.
* Names have been changed.
Story courtesy MARINOS/ BAUERSYNDICATION.COM.AU/ MAGAZINEFEATURES.CO.ZA
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