Vanishing Sibling Syndrome probably is not a confirmed scientific condition. Rather a name I have given to a situation many family caregivers say they find themselves.

The term came to me one day while out for a walk to clear my head. At the time I was beginning to wrap my mind around the fact that I was, for all practical purposes, making life decisions for my mother.

Vanishing Sibling Syndrome or V.S.S. It is probably NOT something a lot of people talk about when it comes time to plan for eldercare of a loved one. However…

Picture this: you have a mother or father who raised two, three, four or more kids. So you might think that several of those children as they witness their parent(s) aging would step in to provide a coordinated ‘safety net.’

Don’t get me wrong. I do not believe it is a child’s ‘duty’ to take on such a roll. But one would think if there are several children involved, the work of caring for a parent(s) could possibly be shared.

But what I have come to discover, is that more often there is ONE child out of a sibling batch, who tends to become the primary caregiver and the fellow siblings sometimes “vanish.”

Vanishing Sibling Syndrome. What I call V.S.S. In some cases it may be a matter of not having the means to assist; financially or logistically. Other times, there is no emotional capacity available or the desire to ‘lend an ear’ simply does not exist.

|Take the case of Rhonda (names are changed for privacy). She is the primary caregiver for her aging and ill mother. She has several siblings but says none would step in to assist, so she could take a short break/vacation. The end result is that she cancelled a planned trip because the sibling who originally said they would help backed out at the last minute.|

If you are moving into caregiving and you have siblings, I urge you to consider this.

Do not automatically assume that because you have siblings the work of caring for your elders will be shared evenly. How the shared duties unfold usually will play out differently in each family. How you decide to move forward will depend on the existing dynamics within your family.

|For instance, John cared for an elderly parent for more than a year. He has several siblings and says while they praised him for his devotion and dedication to their father, they admitted they did NOT have the patience or emotional ability to do the same.|

For quite a while, I had to deal with feelings of anger, frustration and dismay as the reality came clear, that I was 100% in the role of caregiver. I have siblings and several did offer some financial assistance to help pay for additional care. But the hands-on work of the daily heavy-lifting was on me. That situation made me tired and angry. When were my siblings going to raise their hands and say, “Hey, we’ll take over now. Your work is finished??”

That never happened. But here’s what I DID learn during that time:

  • The sooner you accept YOU are the primary caregiver, the easier it becomes to begin making the necessary decisions to secure the best care possible for your loved one.
  • Once you stop fighting what is unfolding in front of you, it becomes easier to navigate your own emotions. Acceptance is powerful.
  • Change your thinking from “I have to care for (insert loved-one here)” to “I get to care for…”
  • Begin mapping out future plans and research, research, research!

That includes figuring out the financial and logistical aspects:

How are your parents going to live comfortably? Where are they going to live? How will their care be paid for? What changes might you need to make to your personal life in order to provide the care they may need? Will you be able to or willing to take a break from your career if necessary in order to carry out those tasks?

Vanishing Sibling Syndrome or V.S.S. does, however have an upside.

You could be the one to help your loved one make end-of-life plans. It turns out that in my case, V.S.S. made it much easier to help my mother work through her end-of-life wishes. And that’s because there WERE NOT a handful of other voices involved.

The best piece of information I can share about V.S.S. is simply be aware it may exist in your family. Do not get sidelined if it becomes your reality.

DISCLOSURE: Julia is not a psychologist or attorney; this information is based on personal experience, observation and input. Consult your financial planner or medical specialists for specific steps for your family.