Millions of Baby Boomers are becoming senior citizens and many of them have aging parents who require some level of physical or financial help.
Across the country, Boomer-aged adults are offering assistance to their elderly loved ones, and it can be a complicated, exhausting journey. It’s not surprising that sensitive family dynamics can be one of the most challenging aspects of caregiving for an aging loved one, given the tremendous demands involved.
What’s at the root of these family disagreements? The primary culprits include:
- Roles and rivalries that date back to childhood. Mature adults often find that their childhood sibling rivalries and patterns of communication surface when their family gets together. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving.
- Disagreements over the loved one’s condition and treatment. It's common for family members to have very different ideas about what's wrong with their loved one and what should be done about it.
- Disagreements over financial matters. How to pay for a family member's care is often a huge cause of tension. These conflicts are often fueled by resentment over income disparities and perceived inequities in the distribution of the family estate.
- Burden of care. Experts say the most common source of disharmony among family members occurs when the burden of caring for an elder isn't distributed equally. Usually one of the adult children takes on most of the care-giving tasks, creating feelings of resentment.
That doesn't mean that family squabbles are inevitable.
Most of these conflicts can be avoided and if they do occur, there are constructive ways to work through them. The following tips can help you recognize and avoid some of these common landmines so you can keep the focus on your loved one’s care:
- Hold family meetings on a regular basis. When your loved one starts having health issues, arrange family meetings (or conference calls if distance is an issue) with your siblings and other family members who will be involved in his or her care. The goal is to share information and make decisions together, and to set up the process before a crisis occurs. These meetings can also be a source of support and provide a forum for resolving disagreements.
- Divide the labor in a way that makes sense. Few siblings achieve a perfect division of caregiving duties: For reasons having to do with time, resources, proximity, and personality, one or more almost always winds up taking more initiative than the others. What's important is that every sibling should contribute in some way.
- Communicate your feelings. If you feel you're carrying too much of the burden, consider discussing it with your siblings and other family members. They may not realize that you're feeling overwhelmed or even know how much you're doing. It's also important to communicate if you're feeling burned out and need a break.
- Offer help even if you’re not nearby. If you live far from your aging loved one and other relatives are responsible for most of the day to day care, be sure to offer support. Check in often to see how things are going and to offer whatever assistance you can. Be patient and understanding if the local caregiver needs to vent. You can also offer to volunteer to be the caregiver for a week so the primary caregiver can take a vacation.
- Be kind to one another. Caregiving can be frustrating, tiring, and unpleasant. It can test the patience of even the most devoted children. Recognize that it’s hard work, and treat your caregiving partners with love and respect.