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How Can I Get My Adult Siblings to Care About Our Ailing Mother?

How Can I Get My Adult Siblings to Care About Our Ailing Mother?


I am the youngest of four siblings. I live closest to our widowed mother, who is 84 and homebound. My siblings live out of state, so it has fallen to me to manage her deteriorating health and cognition for the past decade: visiting, paying bills, grocery shopping, going to doctor’s appointments, managing medications, hiring caregivers — and more. I am exhausted! While my siblings seem grateful that I’ve got our mother covered, there is little communication with me or compassion for the time I devote to our mother’s growing needs. I wish I could teach them to care more. I hear from them rarely — every few months from one, once a year from another and not at all from the third — and, sadder, neither does my mother. Is it possible to motivate slacker siblings?

SISTER

I have been in your shoes, and I have wasted years trying to understand inscrutable siblings (whom I love). Don’t follow my lead! You can’t make people feel things they don’t feel. And it is almost as hard — after a brief honeymoon of guilt-induced compliance — to get them to do things they aren’t moved to do. Here, it doesn’t really matter whether your siblings’ neglect arises from laziness, indifference or the frequently cited discomfort at seeing older parents in a diminished state. (It’s called aging!)

Here’s what you can do: Be clear with your siblings about your needs. Tell them you are exhausted from taking care of your mother alone. Calculate the cost of hiring additional help for shopping and drugstore runs or to sit with your mother so you can recharge at home. Self-care is not optional for caregivers!

Ask your siblings to work out among themselves how they will pay you. You’ve got enough on your plate. They may not come through for you, but this is the cleanest approach: Better to ask directly and be refused than to wish endlessly for help. And this talk will give you the chance to request more frequent communication with you and your mother.

My fiancée and I are thrilled that my sister has agreed to join our wedding party. Years ago, she acquired some misinformation about the dangers of deodorant. Because of these sincere beliefs, she applies scented oil to her underarms instead. The problem: The overwhelming smell of the oil sticks to everyone she hugs. The only way to get rid of it is to wash your clothes and take a bath. This has been going on for years. She is stubborn as a bull and extremely sensitive. Advice for the wedding?

BETROTHED

It seems unlikely that you will dislodge your sister’s long-held beliefs about the dangers of deodorant with a single article from a respected medical school. Still, I found one for the rest of us.

That leaves the hugging: If scented oil lingers on your clothes and skin after touching your sister, it is perfectly reasonable to decline her hugs. I love that you worry about hurting her feelings, but being thin-skinned is no excuse for perfuming others against their will. And perhaps begging off her hugs now — before the wedding — will inspire her to adopt a different regimen before your big day.

My husband and I will be spending Christmas with relatives who have been very generous to us — both with invitations and an abundance of gifts. When we exchanged gift ideas this year, one of our hosts said she would like a gift certificate to a gun store and shooting range. But I prefer not to contribute to what I believe is a culture that is already oversaturated with guns. My husband says to ignore her request and buy something else, but my people-pleasing tendencies are rearing up. Any advice?

RELATIVE

I’m with your husband: Your host probably expressed a soft preference for this gift certificate. She is not counting down the minutes to redeem it at the gun shop. Find another gift she will like and that you will feel better about giving her. Guns are complicated, and if your life experience makes you hesitant to give gun-related gifts, your generous relatives will probably want you to honor your feelings — not ignore them.

My husband and I disagree on party footwear. He has peripheral neuropathy and “needs” to wear shoes. But for cleanliness and the good of our hardwood floors, I ask guests in advance to bring indoor shoes, slippers or socks. If they don’t, I provide a basket of socks by the front door. He thinks it’s embarrassing and controlling to prohibit shoes. You?

TEAM SLIPPERS

I hate to lead with punctuation, but those quotation marks you placed around your husband’s need to wear shoes — which the numbness in his feet, indeed, requires for his safety — make you seem a bit extreme, prioritizing hardwood floors above your husband’s health. Not a good look! Still, I don’t get a vote here, and I can see both sides. Perhaps your husband can do deep cleans after parties with shoes?


For help with your awkward situation, send a question to SocialQ@nytimes.com, Philip Galanes on Facebook or @SocialQPhilip on the platform X.





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