Back to tips

Being a caregiver for your brother or sister


Do you take care of your brother or sister?

Sibling caregiving can take many forms, in an infinite number of relational combinations: a child caring for a younger brother with an autism spectrum disorder, a young adult caring for an older sister in remission from cancer, two aging brothers caring for each other, etc.


Being a caregiver for your brother or sister

Often, sibling relationships are the longest relationships of a lifetime. Bonds between brothers and sisters change over time. They can become stronger or weaker, depending on personalities, periods of life, changing family dynamics and the paths taken by each individual.

The caregiving path of siblings is rarely linear. It is also coloured by changes in the life of a sibling with an illness, disability or special needs.

In childhood as in adulthood

We don’t hear much talk about the siblings who take care of one another. And yet, this aspect of caregiving exists in many different ways.

  • The caregiving process begins among siblings during childhood or adolescence. It can continue into adulthood.
  • Sometimes, it’s only when parents die that siblings become a significant source of support, or are recognized as caregivers. For example, when parents age and die, it’s often the siblings who take over the care of a person with Down’s syndrome.
  • Sandwich generation caregivers, on the other hand, are often caught between their aging parents and their children, in addition to looking after a sibling in need of support.
  • The fact that siblings are aging can also give rise to new dynamics of support between brothers and sisters.

Recognizing the importance of siblings

Siblings are an integral part of the family system. Siblings are regularly involved in crisis management, moral support, budget and finance management and home maintenance.

Despite this, not all siblings spontaneously recognize themselves as caregivers, let alone as primary caregivers, even when their involvement is sustained in intensity and duration.

Siblings also receive little recognition from medical or social institutions, with their responsibilities often overshadowed by those of parents and/or spouses.

Understanding your role

Within a family with siblings, caregiving can take place at intervals, requiring a great deal of energy on the part of the caregivers.

In some situations, caregiving is temporary.

In other cases, a person may switch to the role of caregiver for a sibling unexpectedly and quite actively, over a long period of time.

In all cases, the support relationship that is established disrupts sibling bonds. Siblings may feel a strong sense of guilt towards a brother or sister with an illness, disability or special needs.

Caregiver siblings need time and tools to come to terms with the responsibilities of being a caregiver, as well as the relationship changes and/or grieving process that occur.

Sharing responsibility

Responsibilities are often shared between various members of the family of the person being cared for. They may include parents, spouses, friends, neighbours and siblings. Siblings and other caregivers do not all have the same abilities. It’s important to take into account the abilities, realities and dynamics of each individual.

Sometimes, caregiving tasks can be a source of conflict. Tensions can arise when several siblings are looking after their brother or sister, or when they disagree on decisions to be made for a sick relative. It can be a real headache.

On the one hand, you feel that your siblings are relying a little too much on you, because “you’re a girl,” “you have more time, you’re not working,” “you know the medical world better,” “you don’t have children at home anymore,” etc. On the other hand, you feel that your sister could be a little more involved because, from your point of view, she has more time or ability than you to look after your loved one. Sometimes, it’s the unresolved problems of the past that resurface and prevent us from moving forward peacefully,” explains Charlotte Beaudet, Clinical Coordinator with our Caregiver Support Service.

Questions and possible solutions

It’s sometimes difficult with my brothers and sisters. They expect a lot from me.

Determine your own needs. If possible, communicate and express your expectations clearly to those around you. Communication is the first step to getting on the same page and easing or avoiding family conflicts. By verbalizing your needs, your siblings will better understand what you’re going through, and will be more inclined to help you.

I’m lonely, I’d like my brother to be more involved with our sister.

Try to put yourself in his shoes. Maybe your brother doesn’t feel capable of doing more right now. Maybe he just can’t accept your sister’s illness. Not all siblings have the same pace.

format_list_bulleted See all tips

Need to talk?

Contact our Caregiver Support Helpline for counselling, information and referrals.

Every day from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

Free of charge.

call  Caregiver info :  1 855 852-7784
Live Chat