Family Matters: Talking Things Over and Sharing the Load
In the decade after his wife passed away, Bert Barton had lived alone. He was active and in good health. But when Bert broke his hip at age 81, his children decided it would be best for him to move in with his daughter, Martha. A year into the new living arrangement, however, things aren't working out so well. Even though Martha had insisted Dad would be best off living with her, she now makes pointed comments that send the message to her other siblings that they aren't carrying their share of the load.
You probably think that providing love, care, and support to an older member of your family is a personal thing. At one level or another, you feel a sense of responsibility. You have a role to fill. But remember, senior care is also a family matter—an important, appropriate part of the entire family's agenda. The problem is, dealing with that agenda can also be a time when old, unresolved family issues come back to the surface and get in the way of working together for the good of everyone. It's so important that the family has a share goal to stay focused, honest, open, and fair with one another.
Assessing Your Family Strengths and Weaknesses
When your spouse, parents, or grandparents need help, and other family members consult about it, unresolved family issues may get in the way of effective solutions. Revisiting and reopening long-standing family issues of sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, and other family problems during the last months or years of a parent's life is an easy trap to fall into.
The best way to minimize these problems is to be aware of their possibility and avoid them consciously. Work with your siblings and other involved family members to focus your interactions around the senior's needs and best interests, not other family business. If necessary, have a friend or professional counselor meet and talk with you to move the discussion along.
You probably are not going to change the basic dynamics in your family. Try not to let senior care issues become an emotional battle between family members. It helps to recognize going into the caring role that some people are going to give more than others. Often, there is not much that can be done to correct this imbalance of involvement. However, much can be done in terms of support and affirmation. Those carrying the major responsibility for managing or providing care need both help and appreciation. Do what you can do, and support those who are doing the rest.
Family Communication Skills
When it comes to family communications, it's never too late to improve. Even families with long histories of not communicating very well…or at all…can learn to share their views and ideas for meeting the senior care needs their loved ones. If your family is communications-challenged, try these simple rules:
- Learn to tell…and to accept…the truth. The varnish is less important than the woodwork it covers.
- Think of family communications as an opportunity for personal and family growth.
- Put your issues and concerns out on the table for discussion. Do others see the situation the way you do? Be open to give and take, but try to move in the direction of a consensus about what the senior care needs and opportunities really are.
- Be inclusive. Draw out what each family member is thinking and feeling, including the senior or seniors for whom you are trying to support.
- Stick with it. Reaching a consensus usually takes some work. Be willing to give it the time and effort it requires.
- Be open to both asking for and accepting help. The whole idea is to not "go it alone."
- Share the load. Make sure there is basic fairness going on in terms of the financial, time, and emotional costs of the family's overall care efforts.
- Know when to say "no." If the "fairness" message is not getting through, or if you are simply stretched beyond your capacity, it may be a time to say "no."
Right at Home is a national organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for those we serve. We fulfill that mission through a dedicated network of locally owned, franchised providers of in-home care and assistance services.