WSJ: When Siblings Step Up

By ANNE TERGESEN, Wall Street Journal
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family tree
Sisters and brothers are finding new ways to circumvent old conflicts as they take on one of the toughest roles in their lives: caregiver
When Rene Talavera’s father, Jesus Talavera, 69, was hospitalized for kidney and heart failure last fall, the 45-year-old Chicago resident and his four siblings were catapulted into an uncomfortable new phase of life: caregiving.

At first, Rene Talavera says, the family descended into “disarray and dysfunction.” The hospital staff didn’t know who was in charge. And soon after Jesus Talavera was discharged, the only family member available to stay with him was Kristopher, a 20-year-old grandson. “It was very haphazard,” Rene Talavera recalls.

But even as the Talavera siblings absorbed the shock of their father’s illness, they set aside old conflicts and concerns to work together. “The common thread is that you all love your parent,” says Rene Talavera. “It’s not about you or an argument you had 20 years ago. It’s about Dad and what you can do for him.”

Family cohesiveness is a tall order at any time of life. But as parents grow frail, brothers and sisters often encounter new obstacles to togetherness—at precisely the time they most need to rely on one another. Sibling rivalry can emerge or intensify as adult children vie, one last time, for a parent’s love or financial support. And even as parents grow dependent on children, the desire to cling to old, familiar roles can create a dysfunctional mess.

Today, with the economy and household finances in disrepair, such strains are more pronounced. According to a recent report by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP, about 43.5 million Americans look after someone 50 or older, 28% more than in 2004. In comparison with 2004, a smaller percentage—41% versus 46%—are hiring help. And more—70% versus 59%—are reaching out to unpaid help, such as family and friends.

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