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Husband’s siblings refuse to help care for their ailing mother |
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Husband’s siblings refuse to help care for their ailing mother

Carolyn Hax
| Friday, February 8, 2019 5:45 p.m

Dear Carolyn:

I spent 10 years helping my aging parents. They died six years ago. Now my husband’s mom is 91 with dementia and he and one sister do all the caregiving. His other two siblings refuse to help.

I feel they either need to put in equal time or pay someone to help. My husband refuses to talk about money. And thinks this is OK.

My siblings also refused to help or pay and completely took advantage of my good nature. I am furious and sick of this. Please help.

— J.

This is not OK, you’re right.

But even though you knew it was not OK, and even though you wanted it to be otherwise, your siblings still didn’t do their share of caregiving for your parents. They still dumped it all on you.

So what is different now, as your husband faces the exact same problem? How is he to solve in his family what you couldn’t solve for 10 years in your own?

Please don’t mistake this pragmatism for a lack of sympathy. You are rightly furious and sick of the workload imbalance imposed on your family by the apparent selfishness of others. You are also likely traumatized to some degree by your having to navigate, all alone, the weeds of modern aging and death.

But carrying your anger and frustration over to your husband’s experience isn’t the way to help him, or his sister (a round of applause for both of them, by the way), or yourself, or his mom.

Apply what you learned from your 10-year odyssey, yes, by all means — but include what you learned about families, too: that they don’t always step up when they should. That you can’t force people to do the right thing. That anger is a normal reaction to this. That letting your anger take over will only add to the weight you carry. That doing right by ailing relatives who need you — and honoring your own principles — is a valid and healthy counterweight to the bad feelings of being dumped on.

Caring for each other is a sacred contract. People who break that contract are not getting off easy — they’re denying themselves the rewards of deeper connection and responsibility.

Your husband’s other siblings also will lose out on the bond he and his sister likely form through their mother’s care.

Is this any consolation when you’re in the throes of the heaviest work? Let’s call that a thundering “no” … so respite for caregivers is absolutely necessary, too, physical and emotional.

Making sure your husband and sister-in-law have some relief is a natural role for you — at arm’s length from direct care — if you want it. Opting out entirely is also a valid option; you’ve earned it.

If you do choose to help, though, then you can maintain a schedule to help your husband and sister-in-law avoid burnout, and research respite-care resources, and find a good geriatric social worker to help with the logistical, financial and emotional load.

And you can listen with an unfortunate degree of empathy when your husband needs to talk.

Your anger might still be too raw for that — a fair concern. Even with the cost of your mother-in-law’s care on your mind, some therapy just for you might be money very well spent.

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at

Email Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook or chat with her online at noon each Friday at

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