The care of an elderly loved one can create tensions between relatives, but if everyone is willing to communicate and see other perspectives lots of family drama can be avoided
The holidays are a great time to reunite with loved ones and be with family you haven’t seen all year. For families dealing with eldercare challenges the joy of seeing each other is often ruined by arguments and tensions created because of eldercare issues.
Not too long ago a family hired me to provide information and develop a care plan for their mother who’d had health issues for several years and then suffered a stroke in 2015 that left her almost totally incapacitated. The siblings are close and all work very effectively together for the family business. Unfortunately they couldn’t agree on the best course of care for their mother. The lack of agreement caused many arguments, ruined holiday celebrations, and led to intense stress which eventually effected both their home lives and their work productivity (side note: the average person providing care to an elderly loved one experiences an 18.5% DECREASE in work place productivity).
After speaking with the siblings individually and collectively it became obvious that the “real” issue wasn’t lack of information but lack of perspective, lack of communication, and complicated sibling dynamics.
There are three siblings Eve, Karl, and Bobby. Eve and Karl are twins and Bobby is their significantly older brother. Eve, has a young family and lives closest to their mother’s house-five minutes away. Karl is single and runs a significant portion of the family business from a satellite office 3 hours away. Bobby is also married with a wife and children (aged 10, 13, and 15) but lives in another state with his family. Each cares deeply for their mother, but have different relationships with her. They also have very different perspectives concerning care based on their own individual circumstances and stages of life.
In eldercare it's not unusual for 95% of the caregiving efforts to be provided by one person. Eve, because of her close physical proximity had traditionally been the primary caregiver to their mother but since the stroke she’s become overwhelmed and resentful of her siblings' lack of assistance.
Karl travels frequently and works very long hours because he manages the manufacturing and sales operations. He helps out when he can but his job responsibilities limit the time he can dedicate. The way he sees it, Eve lives five minutes away, never travels, and only manages the 7 people who work in the main office.
Finally, there is Bobby. He is the eldest by several years, lives 500 miles away, and has little free time after tending to his work responsibilities, kids, social obligations and wife. Consequently, he averages about 3 visits a year (usually coinciding with family business meetings).
To avoid arguments they’d mostly avoided issues related to mom’s care and stopped sharing their feelings about the situation. Not surprisingly, this led to multiple caregiving crises and allowed unnecessary tensions to build.
Fortunately, we were able to get things back on track by understanding a few important things:
· Caregiving is best when caregiving duties are shared
There are many caregiving responsibilities and they should be allocated based on a person’s temperament, proximity to care recipient, and other relevant variables. Physical proximity means Eve is probably best able to handle things like transportation, meal preparation, and medications; but the brothers can significantly lighten her workload by doing things on-line like shopping, having groceries delivered, paying bills, scheduling appointments, managing insurance/financial matters etc.
· Honest/Open communication is key to minimizing family tensions. First, a large part of the situation was caused by their mother never communicating what she wanted for her own care. Second, each sibling had to understand their perspective was influenced by their individual situation and stage of life. Finally, neither brother felt 100% comfortable communicating their gender based expectations to their sister.
· Not every family member has the same relationship with the care recipient
Two of the siblings were very uncomfortable with their mother being relocated to a residential care facility. The other person was more open to the option. This was a major source of friction between them. After talking it through, it became obvious that the mother’s similar personality and shared common interest with two of her children had created a “different” (but equally loving) relationship with two them. Not coincidently they were the two who vehemently opposed her being relocated to a nursing home.
· Traditional role expectations may not be appropriate
Eldercare issues are dynamic and frequently require decisions be made with incomplete information-which is stressful. Unfortunately, under these circumstances, people tend to revert back to old patterns of thoughts and behaviors. As children Bobby was left in charge and unilaterally made decisions when the parents were unavailable. 30 years later that is probably no longer appropriate. Also, the expectation that Eve should handle the bulk of the caregiving responsibilities because of her gender is not in line with her work responsibilities or contemporary norms.
The sibling now have scheduled weekly conference calls/Skype sessions which helped open the lines of communication, reduced tensions, and keeps everyone actively involved. Sharing responsibilities helped each sibling develop an appreciation for the other’s perspective, allowed them to bond and become even closer as co-caregivers to their mother. Most importantly, their mother now has three caregivers focused on making sure she receives the absolute best care possible.
The simple truth is that people are who they are, and not every relationship will be good and productive. But eldercare issues can be made significantly less stressful through open communication, and understanding other family member’s perspectives.
For more tips on this subject and insights on many other eldercare topics please see the http://mreldercare101.com/resource-page/ or follow me on Twitter at MrEldercare101.
Happy holidays and good luck on your caregiving journeys.
Derrick Y. McDaniel “Mr. Eldercare 101” is a nationally recognized expert on eldercare and its impacts on working caregivers
*Names have been changed for privacy purposes.