The “seagull effect” from out-of-town siblings when caring for aging parents

For many families, as their parents age and face the need for caregivers, often there is at least one sibling who ends up being the primary caregiver.  When there are out-of-town siblings, sometimes relationships become strained due to the “seagull effect” which is explained very well through this link from the non-profit group The Conversation Project.  The explanation and great pointers they share bring wise advice to this scenario, so whether you are currently in this situation or perhaps it lies ahead, please read through the highlights in order to better navigate what is inevitable for many families.  If your family is already handling these successfully, then this could be a wonderful piece to share with friends who may be complaining to you about their own situation!

Named in part for the picture of a seagull swooping in and sometimes making a mess of things… interrupting or trying to change normal routines because of suggestions and ideas of how to “do it better”. Our takeaways (which help both the siblings and the primary caregiver from 2 points of view) are here, and we encourage you to read it all for more helpful insights:

1. The first critical advice is to Listen to the primary caregiver and be sure they feel heard and understood – not judged. Most times they need more than anything to simply be heard all the way through.

2. Ask the caregiver why they do things the way they do, and to ask if they can relay what the person you all care about has expressed to them as it relates to how they want to be cared for! The link above also includes good examples of questions to ask the primary caregiver both before the visit and during the visit. It is nearly impossible to understand what challenges the caregiver is dealing with both mentally and physically unless you ask them, and not to interrupt them.

3. Have a conversation where both the primary caregiver as well as family members can make a plan on how the others can help best – sometimes it is not a chore or task as much as it may be having a meal together where you do the cooking for the caregiver and enjoy happy conversations over the meal about outside topics for a good distraction, followed by cleaning up the kitchen for them.  Or often it is to be sure they can have a break away from the house if they need it, reassured that a family member is there to keep an eye on their parent(s).

4. If you are the caregiver, try to realize that most “seagulls” truly do care a great deal but may feel guilty for not carrying the heavy load so they may be pushy with ideas or suggestions because they do want to help. Sometimes you as the caregiver are so much in the weeds of daily caregiving that you don’t have the time to research and find out about new methods of care that could in fact be helpful, so keeping an open mind is a good thing.  If you disagree with the suggestions, being able to patiently explain why you disagree specific to your parent(s) could be a good two-way conversation to have.  You have the gift of noticing more nuances from a day-to-day perspective but siblings may offer the gift of providing helpful intel and doing research for you.

Explore the link for specifically relevant tips for your own scenario, and let us know if you have experiences to add which we could share with our nearly 10,000 AgingTopic readers!