Sibling Conflict and Caregiving Roles

By the end of this lesson, you will be able to:

  • Identify the different types of caregiving roles within your own family.
  • Describe situations where conflict may occur due to siblings who provide less care.
  • Improve interactions with your siblings about caregiving.

The role of a family caregiver is never easy. Siblings can be a big support when caring for a loved one. They can also be a source of stress, anger, and frustration.

Man talking on the phone frustrated

Styles of Sibling Caregiving

Often there are many conflicts among siblings about caregiving. This can lead to feelings of anger and frustration. Siblings take on different roles when caregiving for a loved one. Frequently one sibling has most of the responsibility and experiences most of the stress.

Here is a list that describes some of the roles that siblings take:

This sibling is available and can do whatever needs to be done.

This sibling agrees to be counted on when asked. They may avoid providing emotional support to parents or providing actual services. For example, they may live nearby, and may not want to provide care but will when asked.

This sibling provides predictable support with narrow boundaries. For example, this sibling will call their parent once a week but generally offers no other help.

This sibling provides care at their convenience. They may not be relied on regularly. For example, they may agree to take their father to the barber, but only when they are going for themselves.

This sibling provides no care at all. They may have completely removed themselves from any relationship with their loved one needing care.

Improve Sibling Interactions

Communicate Directly

If one sibling feels stressed or feels like they are taking on all the responsibility, they may try to hint that they need help. This is not effective. Siblings may think that because you are managing regular caregiving that you have it all under control!

You must communicate clearly and directly with siblings. Don’t expect that they will know how to help support you and your loved one. Asking for help does not guarantee that your sibling will help, but it does make it far more likely that you will get some support.

Offer Choices

You can try asking your sibling for help by offering them a choice between two specific tasks. Your sibling may not know what caregiving tasks you need help with. Offering choices tells them how they can support you and your loved one. It also lets them pick the task they are more comfortable with. You can say something like:

  • I need to take mom to the dentist and get her groceries this week. Can you help with one of those things?
  • I don’t have time to do the laundry AND cut the lawn, would you mind helping?

Have a Family Meeting

You may want to gather your siblings to talk about caregiving responsibilities. Come prepared with a list of all the tasks that your loved one needs help with. The list should include activities like medical visits, housing, personal care, and financial planning.

Use your list of tasks to decide which sibling can help out with each activity, and how often. This helps to set expectations. It also helps avoid having one person do all the caregiving. Siblings that live far away can help out by doing online banking, research, and calling family members on the phone.

Avoid Sibling Labels

Was one of your siblings always seen as the most responsible? Was one seen as the most caring? Ask yourself: are you and your siblings being pulled into these labels even though you are all adults now?

These labels can make us think that some siblings should take on more responsibility. They can also make us avoid asking for help from a sibling who may have been seen as “unhelpful”. Be aware of how these labels impact your family dynamics!

Say Thank You

Saying thank you is simple, but it can make a big difference! Even in situations where one sibling is doing much more than the other. You can say something like:

  • Thank you for the time you spend with Mom on the weekends, it gives me a chance to take care of things at home.
  • I know all I do is the gardening with Dad, so I just want to say a big thanks for all that you do.
  • I am really thankful that you drive Dad to some of his appointments.

Saying thank you can help with frustration and resentment for the person saying it, and the person hearing it.


A. Sam, it is unfair that I do all the care for Mom while you read the newspaper. Can you help?
B. Sam, I need help cleaning the sheets and getting mom breakfast this morning – can you help with one of those tasks?
C. Sam, can you help out this morning? I am already so busy, and I don’t have time to do everything.

Answer: B

A. Make a list of all the activities that her mom needs help with.
B. Make a list of all of the hours she has put into caregiving over the past few months.
C. Make a list of all the times that she has helped out her siblings in the past.

Answer: A

A. Clean up her mom’s house while Sam is away.
B. Ask her to do it again next week.
C. Say thank you.
D. Buy her a gift.

Answer: C

Additional Resources

  • Man and woman walking together

    20+ Ideas for Managing Caregiver Stress

  • Man reading newspaper

    4 Skills for Documents & Decision Making

  • Woman with hand on forehead

    Caregiver Guilt

  • Two woman sitting outside having a conversation

    Caring For Your Mental Health While Caring For Someone Else’s