Caring for elderly parents may bring a family together or tear them apart.
As life expectancy grows, people in their 60s and 70s are still caring for parents, despite their own declining health. People work for much longer now, often providing childcare for their grandchildren. Tiredness, ill health and family arguments add to the stress. The additional strain of caring for parents can cause a hidden resentment or sibling rivalry to become much worse, even if everyone agrees on the care.
If siblings disagree about the appropriate way of caring for elderly parents, this can create family rifts that tear a family apart for generations. Disagreements over money lead to litigation and estrangement. Yet, most people assume, without discussing it, that everyone in the family will work together to look after their parents. They may–but not necessarily in the same way.
First, I’ll look at what makes the situation more likely to result in conflict, then how to handle conflict, and finally, how to avoid or at least minimise conflict and damage to relationships
Parents still think of themselves as parents and find the change in role from carer to cared-for very hard.
As adult children, we underestimate the loss we feel when parents can no longer provide support. Loss often expresses itself in denial, anger and avoidance. More on this topic.
For some families, talking about these issues is very hard. It may be easier to start the conversation with a professional such as a doctor, coach or nurse–however, be wary of talking about people rather than with them.
Factors Increasing the Likelihood and Severity of Conflict
- Perceived unfairness
- Unilateral decisions
- Mental health or dementia
- Pre-existing rivalries/disagreements
- Financial issues such as inheritance expectations, differing
- Infrequent/Irregular communication between family members
- Differing abilities to provide care
- Strong emotions about what is right
- Threats (I’ll cut you out of the will) or emotional blackmail (Never mind about your poor old mother who is suffering)
If any of the above exist, take extra care when thinking and talking about the situations. This is something I would be happy to help with–the initial exploratory discussion is free. Contact Nancy.
Caring for Elderly Parents: Resolving Disputes
First, recognise that everyone wants what is best for the parents, the family and themselves. Everyone looks at things from a different perspective and has different strengths and abilities. We all have hidden struggles or sorrows that affect the way we see things.
Involve everyone in the discussion. Ask for their views on the situation. acknowledge them and accept that they may see things differently. Before you start, ask everyone to think about what their own needs and constraints are, what they would be happy to do, what they would be willing to do but would rather not, and what they just could not do.
Don’t go straight to solutions
Start talking about needs–not just those of the elderly parents but also those of all the family. Some may need to earn a living, some may have young children or other responsibilities. Reassure everyone that their needs will also be considered.
Then, talk about what is important and set some priorities. Let everyone have their say without interrupting or trivialising their concerns. It might not be a big thing for you, but it may be to them. Make sure everyone understands each other. Ask questions, clarify and respect the views of others.
Don’t get emotionally attached to one solution, focus on the end result. The quote below from Dame Cicely Saunders sums up good end of life care, yet is equally valid for the last years of life, however long they last.
You matter to the end of your life and we will help you not only to die peacefully, but to live until you die.
Focus on what is important to the people involved at the time–this will change as their physical and mental condition changes. What makes someone with dementia happy may or may not be the same as what pleased them before the illness.
Make time to manage your own emotions, but not by burying them or beating yourself up for being sad or angry or resentful. Instead, look at what needs lie behind those emotions and think of ways of meeting them in other ways. Some resources Asking for help A6 Liberate Yourself
Minimizing Conflict: Everything In Place Early
If you or your parents are over 60, put everything in place NOW, before things happen. It’s a better way to show you love your family than to buy life insurance! If you leave it too late, it limits your or they may be made for you by others.
Assume that there might be problems and think what they might be. Talk about how these might be solved.
For example, if family members live at a distance, what would happen if a parent had a fall? Who would be notified first and if they were away, what should be done? How could you involve everyone and keep in touch?
If you want to know more, read about how to live life to the full by being ready for death.
If you are based in Durham, NE England, St Cuthberts Hospice run courses to help you put everything in place.
Caring is a hard job especially when it is not a job, but something you are doing for a member of the family. Mixed emotions, tiredness, loss and fear of the future will take a toll on the kindest and most positive person. Be gentle on yourself and make sure you also look after yourself.
If you would like to talk things through and explore how I can help, please contact me–the initial exploratory call is free and confidential. Text 07980 920 078 or email firstname.lastname@example.org to arrange.