Why am I writing about this? I’ve been there— and it was a bumpy ride...

A glimpse of some of the book’s stories and insights, each with something to tell us about ourselves.

Advice on Sibling and Family Dynamics

Organizations and websites where a family caregiver or siblings can get help.
















They're Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parent' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy - by Francine Russo   Amazon | Borders | Barnes & Noble
       Random House | Indie Bound

“...a stunning book about one of the most complex but ignored times of human transition... unique in the field of close relationships…"


Pauline Boss,  Author, Ambiguous Loss (Harvard University Press) 

"...Not to be missed ...More than a how-to book, this groundbreaking work illuminates a difficult stage of life..."

 Library Journal  

Francine answers questions about her new book.






In the tradition of Francine's Time magazine column "Ask Francine," this blog will have frequent responses from reader submitted questions (see bottom of page, or, click here to submit your own question or sibling story), tips on how to maintain healthy sibling relations, and anything else that's on Francine's mind at the moment. Your comments are encouraged, and welcome to the blog!


“How do change your phone numbers so your parents can't find you?” Fantasies of Eldercare Escape

Dear Francine, My parents have read or are reading your book, They're Your Parents Too! I am concerned that as they become less independent, they will ask me or my sister to care for them. Here's the rub... Any contact (email, phone, but especially in-person (which is rare)) is both physically and mentally painful for my sister and myself. Both my sister and myself have made it clear to them that neither of us will be caring for my mother. Their life choices have resulted in destitution in their "golden years" and they are not able to pay for private care. My father has repeatedly spoken of his role as a buffer between her and us. His "plan" has always been to outlive her (even at one point making a suicide pact). Unfortunately for all concerned, he continues to have more serious health problems and will probably die before my mother. While I would care for my father alone, I have little connection with my mother and do not feel any obligation to help her now or in the future.

 Can you revise your next book (or blog) to include topics such as:

* How to change your phone numbers so your parents can't find you

* How to ease parents into being wards of the state

* Reflecting on your life choices that have led you to the point of being alone

* What states have assisted suicide laws

* How to contact Dr Jack Kevorkian

Maybe a title for a new book could be "They're Not Your Parents Anymore" (or alternately, "They're Not Your Kids Anymore").

 I am, most seriously (going to hell), Brian


Dear Brian, What a refreshingly honest letter. There are more people who feel this way than will say so out loud. They usually feel “guilty” for having such “bad” feelings. I think that being realistic about your family and your relationships is a much better way to deal with the challenges of your parents’ aging.

But that doesn’t mean you’re off the hook! Before the advent of social security, there were very few old people, and most of them were poor. Their children were not only expected by society to take care of them, but many states had laws requiring adult children to support indigent elderly parents. Some still have these laws on the books, and there is talk at least of enforcing them again!

 Right now, you are imagining what you will feel if your mother is left on her own. You may never like your mother or want to spend time with her, but, if she is suffering and alone, you may be surprised by the complexity of your feelings. Compassion may be one ingredient. Or you may find yourself asking yourself, “What’s right for me to do to order to feel okay about myself as a person?”

 That doesn’t mean that you have to do what your mother wants you to do, but you might consult with someone from your local area agency on aging (or a geriatric care manager or eldercare attorney)—while keeping a comfortable distance from your mother—to figure out some strategy so that she doesn’t die alone in a ditch by the side of the road. Whatever you say, I don’t think you’d feel good about yourself if an equivalent scenario ensued.

Although I wrote my book! primarily for adult children, some elderly parents have also read it. Other have come to hear me speak. The wisest have gained insights into how the arrangements they make (for their care, money, etc.) can affect their children positively or negatively. But a few have focused on just the sections that enforce their own positions and are using it to bludgeon their kids into feeling guilty. As they say, even the devil can quote scripture. If you read the book yourself, you will find in Chapter Two (“Acknowledging Our Parents’ Aging”) a story about a man named Larry who felt pretty much as you do about “MOM.” Here’s a brief passage:

 “Something in her age and aloneness moved this polished player with a caustic wit. “I have a responsibility,” he told me. “I don’t know what it is, but I have it. I have a fifty-six year history with this woman. And,” he added significantly, “I no longer need her approval.”

 So I recommend you “steal this book” (mine, not Abbie Hoffman’s) from your mother, and, in addition, you might want to check out a book by Jacqueline Marcell: Elder Rage, or Take My Father... Please!: How to Survive Caring for Aging Parents. On the other hand, this author did choose to care for her parent; you might choose to flee to another jurisdiction—without extradition.


Who Wears Frodo's Ring of Power? Assuming Your Mom's Power of Attorney

People often write to me about family struggles after one sister or brother assumes control of their parents’ business affairs. Frequently it’s one of the siblings who did not get Mom’s power of attorney or become Dad’s trustee complaining about the one who did. But just as often, it’s the sister or brother who has the power and feels no matter she does, she just can’t win. Remember Frodo’s ring of power in The Lord of the Rings? Being awarded your parent’s “ring” of legal authority is something like that. A blessing and a curse.

When one of gets Mom’s POA, you may think you’re just “taking care of business.” Don’t believe it. In families, it always goes deeper.  These transfers of power, while our parents are alive (and after) upset the very foundations of our family as we know it. Parents are in charge: they make the decisions that affect us all. If you’re not the one who got Mom’s POA or trusteeship or who was appointed executor of Dad’s estate, you may feel: “What does it mean that my brother is making decisions that my parents used to make, decisions that affect all of us?  And why him? Why not me?” And it can be just as unsettling if you’re the one so “honored.” I remember one family where the daughter appointed had to field resentment from her sisters and brothers, but also had to deal with her own internal questions. “My siblings carped,” she related, “’who does she think she is, signing for Mom?’ But I was also asking, “Who do I think I am?

Even though you may feel flattered to get this job, it’s no picnic. I‘ve seen families blown apart by who gets the power and how it is used. In Chapter six of They’re Your Parents, Too! (“Who Put You in Charge?”), I offer specific suggestions for how to navigate this minefield. But here I want to share the story of a daughter and sister who did this well. Because even when the family gets along, there are dangers to watch out for and feelings for which you should prepare yourself.

Wendy Hart Beckman, a freelance writer in Cincinnati, wrote to me about the difficulties and satisfactions of being her Mom’s power of attorney and then, her executor. I don’t know that doing this primarily on her own, as Wendy did, would be the best course for others. I believe that hiring a good eldercare attorney could have eased this process, but she had an unfortunate experience with another kind of lawyer that influenced her decision to handle the matter herself. (She did, however, consult her mother’s attorney from time to time.) There were difficulties: her parents, both of whom had Alzheimer’s, had left their finances in a terrible mess that was very hard to straighten out on paper and with creditors and stock funds. Her siblings were supportive—by no means a universal situation—but some of her own emotions during this experience were perhaps the hardest part of all.

“ As I went through my mother's belongings,” she said, “ I found index cards, notebooks and Post-it notes full of reminders and comments and records of phone calls that Mom was writing to herself. It was the documentation of a mind falling apart, and that was incredibly hard to take as her daughter.

“It was difficult taking on a "legal" role without training, but I wouldn't have wanted an outsider to have done it. This was partly because I feel as if it was my last duty that I fulfilled for my mother, that only a family member would have understood what she really wanted. In her last few years, she had started to threaten to cut my brother or sister out of her will -- whoever she had argued with last. I checked with the my mother’s lawyer  because I felt that the lucid Mom wouldn't have really wanted to cut either one out.

“I feel that I grew personally as a result, too. It made me a much more patient person, especially with my own children. I am a lot less likely to get upset over trivial things and am more forgiving. I have a bigger picture of life now. I'm trying to also apply some of the lessons I learned about not hanging onto material possessions so much, but that part is coming slowly as I have my parents' possessions to go through still, like many decades' worth of photographs. An outsider would have approached it simply as a business function and it's always more than that.”

Eloquently said. Even when it’s about the money, it’s never just about the money. This entire life-passage, from the first signs of our parents’ aging to the last details of the estate, touches on our deepest feelings—as children of our parents and as human beings.


"My brother says, 'If you want to spend your inheritance on hired help for the folks, that's up to you.'"

Dear Francine,

I am having a very hard time dealing with my siblings and my parents' caregiving. Both my parents are 87 years old and had been living on their own in a condo in Maryland. I have three siblings, the older and younger brother living in the same town as my parents.  I live about a 45 minute car ride away and my older sister lives about 400 miles away in Massachusetts.

About three years ago, my older brother and his fiance, announced that they had talked with my parents in private and all four had agreed that Paul would be given his inheritance early so that he could purchase property on a small beach nearby and build a house for my parents to live on the first floor and he and his wife would live on the second and third floors.  My father was slowing down quite a bit and we all knew they would need some help at some point in the near future. My brother's wife was to work out of the house and be there for my parents as their needs grew.

We all agreed it was a lovely idea, but I had some questions that went unanswered.  I was uncomfortable with the fact that no one else in the family was included in the decision making - my brother and sister-in-law had come up with the idea on there own, presented it to my parents, and they all agreed and went ahead with the project.  They told the rest of us after the decision was made and the property purchased.

The house took a bit longer to build than originally expected and my fathers health had taken a turn for the worse. He had several small strokes, a possible small heart attack and was showing signs of dementia or Alzheimer disease as well as Parkinson's.  He was falling quite a bit and now is at the point where he doesn't remember who I am.

While the house was being built, my sister-in-law was diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer, has been through several rounds of chemotherapy and her outlook is not good.  Needless to say, she has not been able to help my parents as planned and my brother is overwhelmed with the house, his own work and taking care of his wife.

I have two children of my own and have found it difficult to get to to my parents' house on a regular basis to help out.  I looked into many resources for the elderly living at home and along with the family, agreed to hire someone from a home care service to come in a few times a week to help out with my dad and also give my mother a chance to get out to go shopping or play mah jongg.  It took a while for my parents to agree to this, and they both go back and forth about not wanting or needing the help - but they do need it and will need more of it in the near future since there is no plan for them to go to any kind of assisted living facility.  All of their money was put into the house and what wasn't, goes to their bills and daily living expenses.

We have family meetings a few times during the year on what we all can do to help out, and update everyone on the parents health,  but it always comes down to my sister and older brother telling us that each of us needs to spend  more time with our parents instead of relying on "outside" help.  Meaning spending the day cleaning, shopping, teaching dad to use a walker (which he refuses to do) - do physical therapy with him, drive them to doctors visits, etc..  I am having a hard time accepting this because it was not something I agreed to do originally because of my own life situation and would have appreciated being in on the original decision making.  Not only is a lot expected from all of us because of the situation with my sister-in-law, but my brother, as kind and well meaning a soul that he is, received his inheritance, built a million dollar house with my parents financial help, and when I talk to him about getting mom and dad a land line, (he insists that they use only cell phones) someone to come and clean the house on a regular basis, or extra help, he always says "well, it's your inheritance, if you want to spend it on that stuff, it's up to you"

I don't know what to do with my feelings because I feel so strongly that my parents need more help than my siblings realize and I am angry that we weren't included in the initial decision to build this house and feel guilty because of all these feelings! Should I just let it all go as they want me to do and suck it up and do what is expected of me?
Thanks so much!
~ Donna


Dear Donna,

What a mess. And it has come out of a combination of good intentions (Motives are always mixed, but let’s give everyone the benefit of the doubt), mistakes in planning and communicating, and…Fate! No one can predict when people will get ill, no matter their age. And your poor brother.  Sure , he got the money, but he may lose his wife to cancer!

 There is absolutely no point in being angry about what can’t be undone. That anger will just eat you up and will not serve you. The question is: what to do now?

 It’s great that your family has meetings and talks to each other. The way I read your family (based, at least, on the way you present things)  is that there is a lot of love—and a lot of guilt. Your siblings can’t help as much as they want to or feel they should, and so in their dilemma, they want others to make up for what they can’t do for your parents. Everyone is struggling: What do I owe my parents? What do I owe my spouse and kids? What kind of person do I want to be? How can I balance everybody’s needs, practical and emotional, including my own? Your parents are also struggling with their side of these issues.

I advise you to think carefully about what you are willing and not willing to do for your parents, given your life and what you feel is right. Your siblings’ demands that you spend more face-to-face time with your parents instead of having paid help seems unreasonable to me—although understandable and worthy of compassion. Set clear boundaries, present them to everyone, and initiate a discussion about how the rest will be taken care of by everyone in concert, whether through money or time.

 The money piece is unfortunate. No one has an “inheritance” until their parents die and bequeath it to them. Despite what your parents’ have done with your brother (which they believed would benefit them in their lifetime), whatever money they have is their own, to be used for their own benefit and care until they die.  So nobody should be thinking of their money as your “inheritance.”

As families, we have no model for how to do any of this. It used to be that if you lived to be 87—a rare old age!— and had some money, you were sure to die soon and leave it to your kids. No more. Because your parents grew up in a very different time, they couldn’t foresee that their natural wish to leave a legacy to their children might not have been realistic. And your siblings are also dealing with all these new realities. So cut everyone some slack—and don’t forget yourself.




A Coming Deluge of Suits by Caregivers? Discrimination Claims on the Rise

So many caregivers have told me how alone they feel with their responsibilities. Rightly or wrongly, many of them feel abandoned by their siblings. If their employers also fail to support them, how can they feel anything but doubly abandoned?

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For Mother's Day (or any day), Send Flowers—to the Sibling Helping or Caring for Mom

That last Mother's Day in the nursing home, my sister was barely speaking to me. I was used to her anger; so I missed her rising desperation as she helped our frail dad get through that terrible last year of my mother's life. I wish now, that instead of just feeling guilty, I 'd used this day in an unorthodox way -- to thank the sibling who was helping care for my mother. I missed that chance, but you don't have to.

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