FCA logo

My siblings expect me to provide more and more of the care for our ailing parents. How can I address this issue without alienating them?

Even in families where everyone is heterosexual, one sibling often ends up assuming the largest share of the caregiving load. The role of primary caregiver frequently falls to the adult child who lives closest to the parents or to the one who does not have young children. If you are not married, or not out to your family and do not have children, your siblings may assume, incorrectly, that you have no other family responsibilities. Based on what they see, they may be expecting you to fulfill the primary caregiving function even if the matter has never been discussed.

How you address this depends upon several factors. If your siblings are not aware of your sexual orientation, they may not realize that your own life leaves you with many obligations and as little free time as they have. Even if they know you are gay or lesbian, they may not know other important aspects of your life. Unbeknownst to them, you may be currently caring for a close friend or partner, or co-parenting a child. These kind of assumptions and expectations about caregiving responsibilities often create tensions in families, both gay and straight.

One way to deal with the situation is to call a family meeting of siblings. There are local agencies that work with caregivers as well as private social workers to assist facilitating a family meeting. This meeting would ideally take place early on, when the situation arises, rather than later when tensions have been simmering. It is helpful for all parties invited to a family meeting—especially the primary caregiver—to think about what should be discussed. Caregivers who will be providing most of the care should explain what part of the burden they feel able to shoulder and what help they need. It is important to set limits at the outset and not agree to more than you can handle just to preserve family harmony. If your siblings are not aware of your other responsibilities and demands, you may decide it is time to “come out” and spell everything out for them.