A Closer Look at Family

Of all the challenges that can be observed among family caregivers of an elderly parent, there is none so intriguing and complex as that of family dynamics and their potential to produce damaging, long-term conflict among adult siblings.  For a variety of reasons, there’s bound to be a lot of emotion associated with caring for a parent:

  • Conflicting perceptions of the loved one’s abilities and precise needs, and arguments over the available solutions (this is particularly true if the primary caregiver is in close proximity and others are more distant, e.g. live out of state).
  • Family-specific relationships—for better or worse—that have evolved over a generation often are pronounced in times of crises, causing siblings to behave differently in response to the loved one, the situation and one another.
  • Asset management by one caregiver on behalf of the loved one may result in heated disagreements among other family members about how money is being spent.
  • Disparity in the burden of care may leave the primary caregiver wondering, “Where did everybody go?” or “I’m here 24/7 and no one appreciates what I’m doing.…’”

Sound familiar?  Studies have shown that 40–46% of adult siblings have experienced seriously deteriorated relationships since becoming caregivers.  Before we discuss a solution, consider this:

  • No parent should have to endure his/her adult children fighting over his or her care.
  • The level of conflict we are describing can be damaging physically and emotionally to all concerned and is counterproductive to the cause.
  • Conflict (and its effects) are utterly unnecessary!

The solution

Recognizing that familial problems and personalities develop over decades, a quick “fix” probably seems ludicrous.  Trust me…you have nothing to lose by implementing the following (and please begin to do so today!)

If you are the primary caregiver:

  • Make a list of every task for which your loved one needs assistance.  Next to each task, put the initials of the person who is providing the assistance—whether that person is you, a sibling, hired help, etc.
  • If you are managing your loved one’s money, keep meticulous records and be prepared to calmly discuss them with other family members, if asked.
  • Be willing to accept help if offered, and ask (unapologetically!) for more help if it is needed.

If you are a sibling caregiver:

  • Offer help whenever possible (ask to see the above list to determine what else you can assume responsibility for).
  • Positively acknowledge your siblings’ efforts and state your appreciation.

For all of you:

  • Sit in the same room together for a family meeting to focus on the realities that are specific to caregiving. (If needed, please engage a third party, e.g. a family therapist or clergyman.)  While meeting–How can I say this respectfully and with all due kindness?–get over yourselves. Caregiving is not about hurts that affected you thirty years ago or yesterday.  It is about your loved one and the future.
  • Stop finger-pointing. Work on improving what YOU are doing.  (When the journey ends, you will want to remember that you gave it your best.)
  • Listen to one another and value others’ feelings.  Consider what it must be like to be in those shoes…how can you make things better for your sibling(s)?
  • Be sure you have all your facts straight. Call CICOA at (317) 803-6131 for a free consultation about available resources and options.

Ideally, family caregiving for an elderly parent can bring families closer together as they work to achieve the loved one’s best interest.  Would you aspire to that end?  You’ll be glad you made the effort!

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