Revising the “Ask” to Draw In Reluctant Siblings

If you are the primary caregiver, you are doing a lot. You may want, even expect, your sibling to do whatever you need them to do. Unfortunately, some siblings are going to resist. They do nothing, you get (understandably) resentful, and relationships fall apart. In the story below, a reader describes how she got her sister to participate. Not everything she wanted, but it kept the family connected. Who knows, the next ask might be easier. As Jane suggests, start small! And play to their interests.


My brother is a family man with four children, five grandchildren, a wife, and a full time job who loves to cook and takes daily walks of several miles. Although he is busy, and doesn’t live close, we have been chatting online and by phone since my father died. I feel lucky to have his emotional support. Since the start of the Covid [pandemic], he has had weekly Zoom meetings with his family. We now add Mom on special days. Somehow it works and provides a family connection even though the technology is a complete mystery to Mom.

My sister is another kettle of fish. For years we didn’t hear from her as she became a professor, married, and did her own thing. When Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, I knew I would need all the help I could get so I decided to meet my sister on her own terms. At first, I asked her if I could call occasionally (she isn’t online) with Mom updates and if she would answer the phone. Very specific. Very small ask.

After getting updates for about six months, she began to understand how much I was doing for Mom and asked if she could help. Knowing her capacity to help was limited, I asked her if she could buy a special clock for people with Alzheimer’s that has both the time and date in big letters and numbers. She said no (loooong story, too boring to write). I bought the clock for Mom. After a month of thinking, I asked my sister for something from her world: Library Science. I asked her to send books. She immediately went into research mode. It took several more months (no surprise) before she actually sent books to Mom, but she was able to connect in a way that worked for her. She is still answering the phone, still sending books and, miraculously, Mom still loves to read.

These improved connections didn’t happen suddenly and didn’t necessarily happen in the way I might have wanted. But as time has passed, my relationships with my siblings have improved, our mom is more connected, and I have more support.

Jane W.