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Posted September 15, 2006

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Caregiving Relationship: Dealing With Siblings Who 'Know Better'

Q. My mother is 84 and has been on lithium for over 40 years for her bipolar disability. I am her main caregiver, and my siblings have little involvement with her daily behavior and the things that are changing dramatically in her ability to maintain independent living.

For example, she is presently trying to get her driver’s license back, but she freezes when she tries to take the driving test. My siblings continue to encourage her to continue to try, while I tell her that I have observed on too many occasions unsafe driving by her and feel it is time to stop. Even the driving instructors suggested that she not get a license, but still my siblings want her to continue to try.

I am odd man out and feeling very alienated both by mom and siblings. What should I do?

Sandy T-S, Silt, CO

A. It often happens that family members who rarely visit and who don't provide care can be the "good guys," while the daily caregiver is the "bad guy" because they enforce the rules. Because you're there, you get the "bad guy" role, and your siblings can indulge their fantasies that nothing much has changed since they left home.

Since you are caught in the middle between your mother and your siblings, you might try removing yourself from the equation. For instance, if your mother is to take a driving test, you will have to drive her to the DMV. What if you were to give your siblings this power by inviting them to come and stay with her for a few days while you get away? While they are visiting, they can take her for another driving test if she wants to try again. Then they’ll see the reality for themselves.

The experience of your siblings living with your mother for a few days without a break may be eye-opening. And the pressure of having to perform for her other children may be enough to convince your mother to pass on the whole driving idea. If they decline to come for the visit, which is what may happen, then you have every right to suggest they back off.

Temporarily giving up your "power" probably won't make you any less the designated "bad guy," however. So I also suggest that you try to find a caregiver support group that will understand your situation, and where you can rant and rave every now and again. It's a healthy release, and you will have understanding ears. As you live in a rural community, you might not have a physical support group nearby. If so, there are several Internet-based support groups that may be good alternatives. Use your favorite browser to search for "Internet caregiver support group." You might have to try more than one group before you find the right fit for you.

This answer is provided by Molly Shomer, MSSW, LMSW, a family caregiving specialist and licensed geriatric care manager. Molly, a nationally recognized expert on eldercare issues, is the author of The Insider's Guide to Assisted Living. Her website is www.eldercareteam.com, and she can be reached at molly@eldercareteam.com.

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