In the past few weeks, I’ve repeated that statement enough times that I consider it to be a sign for me to write about it.

Caring for an aging family member is becoming more and more common.  We’re living longer but not necessarily better.  In a perfect world, you and your brothers and sisters would have had several conversations with your parents while they were still vital, healthy, and able to make decisions for themselves. However, we all know we’re not living in a perfect world.

Caring for aging parents is a shared responsibility.

Yes, I said it.  And I mean it.  Just because you’re geographically closer to your parents doesn’t mean that it’s your burden alone.  You’re part of a team, a tribe of family members who all love your mom and dad and want what’s best for them.  Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen organically.  First, every sibling looks at the aging parent situation differently, so it makes sense to discuss your observations.  “What did you see when you went to mom’s house?” is a good opening question.  Are there multiple prescription pill bottles strewn about?  What’s in the refrigerator?  Piles of unopened mail?  If your sister’s view matches yours, great.  If it doesn’t, then maybe some old issues are being stirred up and ought to be talked about.  This is shaky ground here, because we have no prior experience upon which to fall back.  Tread lightly, and try to keep the objective in the forefront; that is, the care of your mom and dad.

Now is the time to research options.  If your brother’s best friend is Google, then delegate the initial researching task to him, and suggest a deadline for him to gather the information and report back.

Another thing to consider is that your brothers and sisters might not know exactly how much you’ve already undertaken to care for your mom and dad.  Do you take your mom to the grocery store, nail salon, and to her doctor’s appointments?  Make a list and share it.  When asking your siblings for help, try to do it without expressing anger, frustration, or guilt.  Instead, be specific about what you want each to do, and what assistance would most benefit your parents.  If you think your sister can afford to chip in a few hundred bucks a month, ask her.  If you think your brother and sister-in-law have the time and ability to give you a weekend off, schedule it.

Remember that your mom and dad might not be easing into this aging parent situation gracefully, so it’s important to be mindful of how the impending role reversal is affecting them.  Our parents have always been independent, and now they have to call us for every little thing.  Imagine how that chips away at their dignity and self-respect.

And most importantly, schedule a family meeting to give everyone an equal voice.  Be sure to invite your parents, because their voices are the most important.

Caring for aging parents is a shared responsibility.