Caregivers: How to Rally the Family

Family Health, Featured Article
on March 31, 2011
Media Bakery

QUESTION: I’m the primary caregiver for my 89-year-old mother who is suffering the late stages of Alzheimer’s. My husband and teenage children have been supportive and helpful. I have two sisters who live in the area as well, but do nothing to help except offer advice. While we were once very close, I now feel only resentment for both of them. Am I being unfair? —Cindy B

Dear Cindy: Maybe. There’s a chance you are bringing your childhood patterns into your current relationships with your sisters. Were you always the family caregiver? Did your parents rely on you to be the responsible, helpful daughter? Did you ever ask for help from your sisters? Chances are, you were cast in the role of caregiver at a young age and have never reestablished your identity within your family. If this is true, you and your sisters are still playing out those roles. Tell your sisters face-to-face, openly and honestly, what you are feeling. But that is not enough. You must also ask them kindly and respectfully for their help. If this idea sounds daunting, advance preparations can help. Create a working schedule for your mother’s care. Fill in the time slots that you can cover comfortably. After you have talked with your sisters and requested their help, show them the schedule and allow them to fill in the slots that work for them.  If there are time slots where no one offers support, negotiate or work together to find a solution.  By creating a support system for your mother, everyone will win. Your sisters will spend quality time with your mother, and your mother will reap the benefits of compassionate caregiving. When that happens, you will be able to relax knowing your mother’s care rests in many good hands.

Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (, the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at or