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Caregiver Jealousy

The will to care for our loved ones comes from many different places in our hearts and minds, mainly from a place of love and obligation. The love side may not need recognition. The obligation side may need recognition or appreciation in the least. Even though our loved ones appreciate our efforts, sometimes it does not feel like appreciation when our siblings or others get the glory. It's normal to feel jealousy between siblings but how we work through jealousy and what gives rise to our jealousy still needs to be addressed.

As long as more than one child is in the house, sibling rivalry is inevitable and painful. When my siblings and I were young, the bickering was the normal way we learned to communicate with each other. Whether we learn to tolerate differences because of age or hide in their shadow, competing for Mom and Dad's approval and appreciation does not change when we are adults.

Today's guest, founder of Sabrina Johnson Advocate for ALS, knows this kind of jealousy. Trying not to compare herself to her sibling may not have been the challenge but seeing the difference in response from her mother sometimes left a bit of a sting. As a caregiver for her mother battling colon cancer and her father, who passed from ALS, Sabrina decided to share her journey. She finds peace in sharing the good, the bad, and the ugly because caring for others is never a one-sided journey.

Unfortunately, the adulthood triggers come from the unresolved childhood bickering jealously. Name-calling, blaming, arguing, or lying creates barriers towards building confidence, problem-solving and learning compassion skills. Just as children fight to gain attention from parents when they are young, they also enjoy becoming the 'favored one' through sibling competitiveness.

Adult caregivers never stopped wanting attention, appreciation, and accolades. We may not get these emotions from our ailing parents, so we turn to our siblings for as much response to fill the void. Going from competing against each other to achieve goals, to later sharing a burden may be too challenging for some relationships. It proved to be too much for my siblings and me to balance. We did not have the proper tools to manage conflict and resolve differences.

Caring for Mom in the early days was not as demanding, so we could balance the responsibilities. Yet, seeing how Mom responded to my Little Sister like they were Thelma & Louise on a human experience left me feeling jealous and left out. I was the one called on for the challenging tasks of maintaining Mom's household and administrative needs. Little Sis was the fun one that brought enough smiles and excitement to lift Mom's spirits temporarily.

My expectations did not match the reality, which made me feel even more lost as I grieved during Mom's decline. I expected Mom to recognize my love for her through the sacrifices I made to meet her needs. And that is where the weeds of jealousy had the space to grow. Until I learned to adjust my expectations, I could not accept that I would not be Mom's superhero. I was not saving the day or saving Mom from an inevitable outcome. This journey was not a competition of making more A's in all the foreign topics caregiving presents.

If accepting that fighting was our learned way of communicating with each other as kids, then choosing to pick my battles was the only solution. Mom used to tell us growing up, "If you don't have anything nice to say, then don't say anything at all." Trying to cope with Mom's care and caregiver jealousy simultaneously left many moments of silence followed by insincere smiles. We learned to agree to disagree to keep the peace and provide the other with the least amount of respect possible.

In the bible, under Matthew 18:21 when Peter asked "how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?" Jesus answers "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times." I think throughout our lifetime as siblings we were able to forgive easier as adolescents. Adulthood may have provided more stings to toughen our skin, but each one makes it harder and harder to continue to turn the cheek. Wanting the spotlight of recognition is normal, but understanding 'why' I wanted the spotlight made more of a difference for me.

Your parents may have handled sibling rivalry differently but if this resonates with you, then consider the following:

1. Sibling Rivalry is inevitable to some degree regardless of the age gap. There is nothing wrong with you or your sibling. There are other forms of communication to learn, but it takes consideration and time to start.

2. Not all fighting is bad. Sharing a difference of opinion helps us grow and learn. Healthy fighting should help you learn problem-solving skills, but you must keep in mind unhealthy fighting is destructive.

3. Stop thinking that you can control sibling rivalry. It may be time to look deep inside to find why you react with such strong jealous feelings. Some situations can be resolved, while others need a magnifying glass to discover before you can crush the seed of jealousy.

4. Think back to how your parents handled your sibling rivalry as children and find another way as adults. None of us were born with manuals stuck to our backs. Our parents may have done the best job they knew how to do, but it may not have been the best constructive lesson learned. When fighting persists, sometimes distance is the last resort when no one is willing to throw in the surrender flag.

5. Birth order carries its own characteristics. Responses to life, in general, are learned from our parents and peers. What the firstborn learn may not be what the next child learns. Be aware of the differences and consider them when you reflect on repetitive fights.

Thank you for joining in and listening with us today. I hope this gave you more food for thought and until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care everybody.



Photo by Alex Green from Pexels


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