Who Does What
If you are an only child, the answer is simple — you get to do it all. However, if you have siblings, the job should be shared. It will likely be difficult to avoid some of the old tensions and power struggles you had growing up, but if you can remember to keep the focus on establishing and continuing care for your parents, it will be easier.
Sometimes you may find you need to bring in an outsider, such as having the medical social worker call to moderate a family meeting and let each person express his or her ideas, opinions, needs, and concerns. If not an outsider, then the spokesperson needs to call a meeting, whether it is in person, over the phone, or both. Be sure to involve your parents.
It can be perfectly natural for the oldest child to take charge because that was his role growing up. Other roles will come back to light as well and may cause struggles over who does what or who gets stuck with what. Try not to let these influence the quality of care you need to provide. Any power struggles or resentments over childhood issues are all irrelevant now; there is a job to be done. Each person brings a unique perspective that needs to be heard and considered.
Establish a few ground rules such as setting a time limit for each person to speak, listening without interrupting, no pointing fingers or using the word “you” to begin a sentence, staying focused on the subject at hand, and not reverting to old sibling or family issues.
Everyone can help in some way. It may be easier to let people volunteer, but each sibling should have some role in the care of the parents. Make a list of all of the things that need to be done and either volunteer or delegate responsibilities. No one should take on the whole burden alone as it will be increasingly difficult to recruit help later.
Some of the duties or responsibilities could include such things as:
Help with paying bills
Transportation to medical appointments
Grocery shopping and errands
Filling out insurance forms; following up on insurance payments
Investigating future housing such as assisted living, board and care, or nursing homes
Finding community resources as needed
Meeting with lawyers and handling legal matters
Housework and cooking
As time progresses and circumstances dictate, more responsibilities may be added to the list and some eliminated. Always keep your parents in the loop. Don't make decisions without consulting them first.
Siblings who live far away can still help with the responsibilities. They can make regular phone calls to check in with your parents or help provide occasional respite. They can participate in a number of ways and should not feel left out or that they have left the burden entirely to others. At the same time, other siblings shouldn't feel that those who live out of town have skipped out on helping.
Once you have the duties delegated, make a master list of who is doing what and distribute it to all involved. In a couple of months, you should evaluate how well the system is working and call another meeting to discuss any problems or changes that should be made. Again, involve your parents and let all family members express their opinions, ideas, and concerns.
It may be a good idea to involve spouses so they understand that everyone is pitching in to help and there may be some time sacrifices and compromises to be made in the care of your parents. Time may have to be devoted to caring for the parents that takes them away from their own family. Strong, supportive relationships with your spouses will be important to the success of your plans.