Common Challenges for Family Caregivers
Leo Tolstoy wrote in Anna Karenina, "All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way." While your family may not technically qualify as "unhappy," you've likely experienced occasional friction in your family dynamics over the years. Everything from childhood rivalries to unresolved tensions can emerge during the stressful time of caring for a parent. In fact, a full 40 percent of caretakers experience sibling conflict, according to National Eldercare Mediator Network co-founder Janet Mitchell.
The challenge of caring for a sick parent is also exacerbated when one sibling is unable to face the reality of a parent's condition. This denial can lead to hurt feelings on both sides, and if left unchecked can interfere with a parent's ability to get necessary care. This may also lead more active siblings to become angry or frustrated with the other sibling's denial and/or resistance to change.
Perhaps the most common conflict of all pertains to the division of caregiving duties. Not only is it next to impossible to split these responsibilities evenly and in such a way that works for every member of the family, but other factors invariably come into play. From geographic location to varying temperaments, a broad range of emotions can emerge due to disparities and perceived disparities. More physically present caregivers can feel unappreciated and overwhelmed, while far-off siblings may feel left out of the decision-making process.
Tips and Techniques for Managing Family Dynamics
While it may seem like these conflicts are insurmountable, making the effort to overcome them is a worthwhile endeavor. Why? Because leaving these tensions unresolved will only cause them to fester while dealing with them can ensure that your loved one receives the greatest quality of care.
The first and most important step in managing family dynamics is communications. Each member of the caregiving team should be welcome to speak their feelings freely and directly. After all, the more you're each able to voice your needs and expectations, the more likely other stakeholders will be able to respond in a meaningful and effective way.
Putting your heads together and working towards a
common goal can lead to the best outcomes for all.
The ability to appreciate each other's abilities and differences is also an important part of managing family dynamics during stressful times. Not everyone can or should contribute in the same way. While a local caregiver may be best suited to assist with daily errands, a long-distance caregiver may take on finances or legal work. All of these duties have value, and should be accepted and recognized.
Above all else, it's essential to remember that regardless of differing opinions you all have the same ultimate goal: the best interest of your aging parent. Willingness to compromise can guide you to livable solutions.
Keep in mind that in some extreme cases you will be unable to resolve conflicts on your own. If communications break down or become contentious, an outside facilitator -- such as an elder mediator, social worker, religious leader, or counselor -- can offer help for family caregivers in the form of professional and objective mediation. Your local Area Agency on Aging can be a valuable resource in finding a qualified professional.
While sibling tension may be unavoidable, it doesn't have to interfere with your aging loved one's quality of care. Communication, open-mindedness, and compromise can help you come together for the greatest good. mmlearn.org offers a large library of free videos for caregivers of older adults, covering topics pertaining to senior care. Whether you are a healthcare professional or a family caregiver, if you are caring for an older adult we know that you will find mmlearn.org an essential learning and guidance tool for all of your caregiver training needs.
- Understanding Family Dynamics When Dealing with Aging Parents - Dr. David A. Smith
- Families Coping with Dementia - Maria Wellisch, RN, LNFA,
- Family Dynamics for Caregivers - Dr. Theresa Barron-McKeagney
- They’re Your parents, Too! - Author and Speaker, Francine Russo.