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50 50 rule – caring for your parents

There are almost three million unpaid carers in Australia, most of whom are family members. But what happens when one sibling is pulling more of the weight?

Caring for your ageing parents can be a difficult task. It can also lead to some sensitive situations between siblings, especially if one sibling thinks they are doing more than the other. According to The Economic Value of Informal Care in Australia 2015 produced by Deloitte, it’s estimated that carers provided more than 1.9 billion hours of unpaid care in 2015. And according to the latest statistics from the Australian Bureau of Statistics, the average age of a primary carer is 55. This is possibly due to the fact that our parents are living much longer than ever before. 

The process is hard, emotionally and physically, and can be even more difficult if one or more of the carers are also working, whether full- or part-time. “Sharing does not necessarily come easily to siblings,” explains Martin Warner, Founder of Home Instead Senior Care. “They may have squabbled over toys as kids, household chores in their adolescence and now, in later life, they have to consider how to share the responsibility of caring for Mum and Dad.” But when it’s your parent’s comfort at stake, it’s crucial to put aside your differences and find a way to equally contribute to their care.

So how do you handle the process? Here are some tips and tricks.

Talk openly

Talk to your parents and talk to each other. Communication is absolutely key. At times, your parents may be fiercely protective of their independence. And they have every right to be so. But you won’t know what they want unless you sit down and talk to them. It’s also important that you talk to each other and be honest with how much you can take on. If you’re working part-time and your sibling is retired, then perhaps they can take on a bit more than you. Don’t do any more than you can handle; you may begin to resent the situation.


Once you’ve decided who is doing what, do your homework. If your parents want to continue living at home, perhaps sit down and come up with a timeline and a plan – what do they need help doing? With this in mind, divide the tasks between yourself and your siblings. And if need be, get some expert help in as well. “It’s important for you and your siblings to firstly identify the types of services that your parent needs,” Warner says. “There are a variety of organisations and resources available that can help you meet those needs. Both and are good places to start.”

Be flexible

Situations change. Your parents may change their mind. Your situation at home or work may change. Your sibling’s situation may change. Factor this possibility into your plan and try to have a plan B. What’s crucial is to accept that while the plan is to share the load, it may not always be possible to do so. And remember, caregiving tasks don’t need to be split right down the middle to be considered ‘shared’. “The division of care should take into account the family member’s interests, skills and availability,” says Warner. “The needs of your parents will also change over time and this needs to be taken into account.”


Finally, listen to each other. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, there’s no way your sibling will know unless you speak up. The same goes for your sibling. At times, you may need to read between the lines so never dismiss your sibling’s concerns. Carers Australia recently found that up to 55 per cent of primary carers are spending 20 hours or more providing care. That’s a job. Werner says it’s when you start to feel like you’re overworked that you need to call in the cavalry. “If you’re struggling to cope, call a meeting with your siblings to discuss how they can assist. They might be able to contribute more hours into caregiving or help with looking into private care support options.”