Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Family Dynamics of Caring for an Elderly Parent

Three years ago, my sister didn’t send my son a graduation card.  I’m always hosting family dinners at my house, but no one returns the favor.  No matter how many times I ask my brother to do something, I always end up doing it myself.  By the time most people need to care for their parents, they already have years of family dynamics and history that drive their interactions with one another. 

Caring for parents takes a lot of time, is frustrating, forces families to make hard decisions and can be both difficult and rewarding.  With all the stresses associated with caregiving, unresolved tensions rear their ugly heads and we have a tendency to fall back into the family dynamics established in childhood.  But, caring for parents is such an important family activity that siblings have to work together to effectively manage all that needs to be done.

Working together can be difficult, but there are steps you can take to ease the burden.  Start by forming a care team and establish the best ways to communicate.  Keeping family members up-to-date on what's happening with your parents is an important step if you hope to have siblings actively involved in providing care.  Plus, sharing what needs to be done and regular progress updates help all family members have an accurate perception of your parents' conditions. 

A major source of tension for siblings tends to be the division of labor and responsibilities for care.  The majority of caregiving is done by one person and all siblings should be aware of the work that each person is doing.  Be sure to ask for help from your family members and offer them specific opportunities to help.  Be honest and direct with siblings and realize that sometimes they cannot or will not help no matter how much you talk with them.  Find outside help from family friends or professional caregivers.

Caring for parents can strain even the best of family relationships.  Don't expect family members to change overnight.  Give both your siblings and yourself time to adjust to changing family dynamics as everyone accepts new caregiving roles and responsibilities.  Try and keep a positive attitude and be sure to reach out to family members for help and support throughout your caregiving journey.