Don’t let caring for aging parents or adult siblings overwhelm you.  

Just as we get comfortable with the idea of being middle-aged, we realize there’s a responsibility looming on the horizon that we rarely, if ever, thought of in our teens and twenties. That’s the responsibility of taking care of an aging parent, ailing partner, or an adult sibling who is disabled or sick.  When this becomes your reality it’s hard to truly be prepared, even when you see it coming.  And then you might feel alone, a little lost and a lot overwhelmed. Rest assured, you are not alone in your feelings, in the “lostness” you are experiencing and the daunting new challenges before you.

Approach this responsibility from a place of love

My first recommendation is to look at caring for your parent or sibling as an opportunity, not a burden. Your parents cared for you when you needed them. Now you are in a position to return the love. Your life partner committed to you for better or worse. A sickness or failing health is the “worse,” so it’s a privilege to be able to help them. Your sibling did not ask to be disabled and your parents took care of them as long as they could. Now it’s your privilege to make sure they continue to have as good a quality of life as possible.

Don’t lose yourself

When caring for our aging parents, partner or our disabled sibling, it’s easy to feel like you have to be there to do everything for them.  You don’t.  Your obligation is to make sure they’re safe, cared for as best as possible and, to whatever degree they can understand, that they are loved.  If you’re working a full-time job and caring for your immediate family, there are simply not enough hours in the day, nor enough energy drinks to give you the time and energy you need to also spend hours each day devoted to your loved one’s care. 

Even if your situation allows you to make caring for your loved one a full-time commitment, keep in mind that by becoming the person’s caregiver, you are giving up a large part of your first relationship – daughter, son, spouse, sister, or brother.  What I mean by this, is if you are always feeding or bathing your mother, managing your father’s bank accounts and insurance claims, or grocery shopping and cleaning your sibling’s home, your family member becomes a task to check off your checklist each day or week.   

A way to not only help preserve the relationship of parent-child, spouse or partner, and sibling-sibling is to hire caregivers.  Don’t feel guilty if you take advantage of community or state resources to hire caregivers who come in for a few hours, half day, even all day to see to basic needs like feeding, bathing, shopping or house cleaning, etc. You are still ensuring their safety and care, while maintaining your own space and preserving your familial relationship with them.

This is especially important if you are an only child or the only sibling your disabled brother or sister has.  You can’t help them if you are physically and mentally run down.

Family meetings can head off confusion

If your parents are still alive and healthy, get the family together to talk about what to do if they become physically or mentally ill. If, as in my family, they are caring for a disabled adult sibling, find out what they are doing for that sibling now and what plans they have put in place for when they pass away.  It’s an uncomfortable conversation, but it’s necessary.  Approach it from a place of love and caring.  Let them know that you’re not trying to take over now. You just want to be able to abide by their wishes as best as possible should they no longer be able to care for themselves or your sibling.  As the situation changes, hold another meeting. This will keep everyone aligned and reduce anger and confusion.

Acknowledge emotions

You and your loved one will experience all the emotions a loving and challenging relationship can bring. Acknowledge and accept them, but don’t dwell on the bad ones.  Some days will test your last bit of emotional willpower.  It’s okay to cry or yell. Try not to yell at your loved one.  They can’t help that they are having memory problems or in great pain.  But, don’t beat yourself up either for feeling sad or mad. It comes with the territory.

Cherish the laughs with your loved one.  Celebrate achievements, even the small ones.  My brother is in a lot of pain day in and day out. So it makes it hard for him to do the things he loves. So when my sister or his therapist can help him get up and play his keyboard or sit in the sunshine, as a family we celebrate it like he got first place in the Olympics. It’s okay to smile and laugh during adversity.  It’s what gives us hope.  Most of all, remember that this is the woman who bandaged your scraped knees, the man who taught you to ride a bike, the brother who played soccer with you.  Remember what makes you family and it will help you through the rough times.

Listen to my podcast episode for my personal story of caring for my adult brother with cerebral palsy. And remember, you are not alone.

  • Mary Cook

    Mary Cook, also known as “MC” and “Mother Mary,” is heralded as one of the world’s few content whisperers. She is the creative force and Marcom Director at ThirtyFiveSixtyFour. Armed with a degree in English from UCLA, Mary is not just your average wordsmith—she’s a grammar nerd with a penchant for storytelling that captivates and resonates.

    Born into a big, close-knit family with seven siblings, Mary is committed to keeping family connections and gatherings alive with boisterous fun and games. Mary brings a lot of energy to everything she does. She’s as dedicated to her role as Marcom Director as she is to her role as favorite auntie to her 22 crazy, loving nieces and nephews.

    A life-long athlete, Mary’s passion for sports has transformed into a love for the adrenaline rush. When she’s not weaving words for our podcasts, you’ll find her carving waves on a jet ski or navigating desert trails in her RZR. Mary’s adventurous spirit is as diverse as her ability to craft compelling narratives for our audience.

    In a world that often craves attention, Mary thrives behind the scenes. Her meticulous attention to detail and commitment to excellence are the driving forces that elevate our Marcom strategy. As the wordsmith-in-chief, Mary ensures that every piece of communication reflects the essence of ThirtyFiveSixtyFour.

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About the Author

Mary Cook, also known as “MC” and “Mother Mary,” is heralded as one of the world’s few content whisperers. She is the creative force and Marcom Director at ThirtyFiveSixtyFour. Armed with a degree in English from UCLA, Mary is not just your average wordsmith—she’s a grammar nerd with a penchant for storytelling that captivates and resonates.

Born into a big, close-knit family with seven siblings, Mary is committed to keeping family connections and gatherings alive with boisterous fun and games. Mary brings a lot of energy to everything she does. She’s as dedicated to her role as Marcom Director as she is to her role as favorite auntie to her 22 crazy, loving nieces and nephews.

A life-long athlete, Mary’s passion for sports has transformed into a love for the adrenaline rush. When she’s not weaving words for our podcasts, you’ll find her carving waves on a jet ski or navigating desert trails in her RZR. Mary’s adventurous spirit is as diverse as her ability to craft compelling narratives for our audience.

In a world that often craves attention, Mary thrives behind the scenes. Her meticulous attention to detail and commitment to excellence are the driving forces that elevate our Marcom strategy. As the wordsmith-in-chief, Mary ensures that every piece of communication reflects the essence of ThirtyFiveSixtyFour.