Should I Call?

angry_phone_callSarah cared for her mother until her mother’s death three years ago. She now cares for her father. Her sister, Claire, lives 500 miles away.

When their mom became ill, Sarah called Claire with regular updates until Claire said, “I don’t need so many updates.” Sarah, miffed beyond words, stopped calling.

Now, Claire calls their father two or three times during the week but she doesn’t call Sarah. This makes Sarah crazy. She would like Claire to support her, to appreciate what she does and did for their parents.

She constantly turns a question over in her head: Should I call Claire?

Caregiving can cause many changes in your life and in your relationships, including with family members. You may have thought that others, like siblings, will step up as you do. Until you realize you’ve stepped up so much that you’re at the top of the stairs and they’re still at the bottom.

You may find yourself in a place of wishing, like Sarah. Wishing they helped. Wishing they supported. Wishing.

You also find yourself fretting, like Sarah, about whether to reach out to those siblings. Because, for Sarah, the silence is deafening.

Some suggestions to consider as you wonder if you can change the blackout between you and siblings or other family members:

1. Can you let go of expectations? We expect others to handle situations as we do. They don’t. When we keep the focus on ourselves–what we say, what we do–we can let go of expectations. When we let go, we ease the pressure. Certainly, we can choose whether or not we keep company with others who act and say in ways we don’t agree. We still leave room for their choice. And, ours. They live with their choices, just like we do.

2. Can you express what you need (such as moral support) calmly and clearly? Often, we think other family members will know what we need–we don’t need to express it. That’s simply not true. Be sure to communicate what you need. You can say, “I’m feeling overwhelmed in caring and worry about Dad. Can I call you once a week to vent? I’m in need of a sympathetic listener.”

3. Can you accept their response, whatever it may be? When family caregivers ask me about making a phone call or sending a letter, I check to ensure they are okay with whatever reaction they receive. I also encourage them to focus on the effort, rather than the outcome. Focusing on the effort sounds like this: “I reached out to Sandy for support. She just can’t be that for me. I’m hurt. I’m also glad I made the effort. Now I can put this behind me.” If you reach out and can’t live with the outcome, wait and work through your hurt. When you can live with the outcome, reach out.

4. Can you move forward without bitterness? When you reach out and it’s not the outcome you want, you want to move on without bitterness. We often interpret their lack of support and help as being about us–we take it personally. It’s not about us. It’s about what they feel, what they can manage. If your siblings can’t meet your needs, move on.

For Sarah, she may have to come to terms that Claire can be a support to their father, but simply can’t for her. She moves forward without bitterness when she feels gratitude for Claire’s regular phone calls to their father, knowing how important these phone calls are to him.

It’s important that Sarah realizes what she needs (support) and looks for what she needs in a community or online support group or from other friends and family members. Sometimes, we jump to the conclusion that, because a family member won’t support, we can’t get support. We can receive support; we just look for it from a different source.

How do you communicate with your family about your caree and about your caregiving responsibilities? Please share in our comments section, below.


What Do I Do When I Will and My Sibling Won’t?

Your Greatest Caregiving Skill: You Know How

The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey

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About Denise Brown

I began working with family caregivers in 1990 and launched in 1996 to help and support them. Through my blog, I share words of comfort and offer coping strategies and tips. I also write opinion pieces about recent research, community programs and media coverage of caregiving issues. I've written several caregiving books, including "The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey," "Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers" and "After Caregiving Ends, A Guide to Beginning Again." You can purchase my books and schedule a coaching call with me in our store.

2 thoughts on “Should I Call?

  1. Avatar of darciejanedarciejane

    Thanks Denise, I can so relate to this. There is a lot I could say on the sibling situation. In my case, the siblings are geographically far away, but one of them does not work and has grown kids and is basically available to come during times of intense need (of which there have been several over the course of the last 2-1/2 years). In between times, always available for a good vent, and is the only one who could fully appreciate some of my “Mom” stories that everyone else in my life would find totally boring (or TMI!!). I am very lucky in this regard, and I know it.

  2. Avatar of ejourneysejourneys

    I can relate to this, too. Another factor to consider is: What is my caree’s relationship to her family, and how willing/unwilling is she to have contact? In addition to a largely unresponsive family, there are abuse issues. As much as I want to reach out more than I already have, I balance that with my partner’s issues, especially since she felt I had betrayed her when I reached out to her family several years ago.


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