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.

Siblings Caring for Parents—or Not

What is your sibling story? Do they participate or not? If so, what role do they take? Have you done anything to bring reluctant ones around? How do you cope? Send your story on the contact page here.


The oldest of four daughters, I was on disability and living in a house with my mother and one other sister, who worked full time. A second sister lived next door—she also worked full time. As my mother displayed increasing signs of dementia, it fell to me to convince her to get evaluated—something she fought every step of the way. My sisters all turned a blind eye—they saw nothing wrong with mom, since they were not home much. In my mother’s younger days, she had been an actress, and somehow maintained that skill at every doctor appointment, charming and fooling the doctors for way too long, until her dementia progressed, then after a few outbursts in doctors’ offices, they could finally see the state she was in. Of course, even though I was taking her to all these appointments, and taking care of her at home, she resented me and constantly raged at me. Eventually she had to enter a nursing home, when her behavior became unsafe at home.

I read many books on dementia + attended a support group for caregivers-it helped.

Cynthia C.


My sister gifted me your book, Mother Lode, this Christmas! When our house was finally quiet, Christmas “packed away,” I picked your book up, and could hardly put it down. I cried and laughed, hurt and rejoiced in your journey with your mother as it mirrors so much the struggles we are having with our mother (and father to some extent). I retired over 2 years ago and moved closer to my sister to help care for our “old-old” parents. They lived with me in our home across the street from my sister, until last April, when it was time for Assisted Living (our mother’s decision). They are 92 and 94, both with increasing dementia.

Your story gives me hope.
Sarah R.


A friend gave me your book as I have been taking care of my 94 year old mother for years. The stories about your mother are so familiar. Sadly I don’t have a “Rebecca” as my three siblings do not participate. It is endless and exhausting. Your book gives me comfort, knowing I’m not the only one. Thanks for all you did for your mother and for sharing the experience to connect to the rest of us.

Very best, Susannah H.


The decision to make sure Dad lived in his own home until the end was an easy decision for my siblings as none of them intended to take care of him. One sister lived four hours away and far from retirement in a job she had held for almost 30 years. Second sister lived in Florida. Brother lived across the field from my parents but was not emotionally mature enough or financially able to provide any help (and offered none). I stepped up because I was retired and financially secure. Dad’s home would had to have been sold in order for him to afford living in any type of memory care (with Alzheimer’s). He also had prostate cancer and was being treated for both that condition and dementia, high blood pressure. The home was not ready for sale and my dad was cognizant and able to take care of his personal needs in the beginning. It would have been heartbreaking and met with considerable resistance to sell the place and place him in care. My siblings were very willing to let me take charge and live with dad as long as their inheritance was not touched. It became clear it was an important factor as I asked them about paid care for dad. None of them were willing (or able) to bear those costs, but didn’t want to give up their “stake” in the estate. It was easier for me to live with him full-time.

Sonya S.