Eldercare Changing Family Dynamics

When we think of the challenges of helping parents age well we may think of living arrangements, medications, or shuffling around work meetings and doctor appointments. What many adult children haven’t bargained for is just how much eldercare can impact the dynamics of their family relationships. Whether you live on the same block on the other side of the country, the challenges of eldercare can really mark the experience of what it means to be a caregiver, a son, a daughter, or other family.    

Family Dynamics

Leo Tolstoy famously wrote in Anna Karenina, “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” In truth families have their unique blend of happiness and unhappiness, their own particular dynamics. There are rivalries, favorites, peace keepers, black sheep, and varied roles. Even though there are years and years of water under the bridge, caring for an aging mother or father can suddenly bring those experiences back to the forefront and amplify dynamics between family members. Particularly when it comes to choosing a Durable Power of Attorney, granting decision-making power can also shift the dynamics and roles between family members. Here are a few common scenarios that may sound familiar:    

Common Scenarios & Dynamics:

  • Siblings living long-distance to aging parents
  • Parent overwhelmed by the care of a spouse
  • Coordinating eldercare responsibilities with multiple siblings
  • Differing opinions of acceptable eldercare solutions
  • Family caregiver burnout of one sibling and disengagement of another siblings
  • In-laws needing care and working with spouses of siblings
  • Women most commonly taking up caregiving roles and taking a financial hit
  • Work/life impacted for sibling living closest to parents
  • One sibling “taking charge” and leaving others out of the decisions
  • Fighting over inheritance and matters of the will
  • Power struggle over who will be healthcare and/or financial power of attorney
  • Denial of siblings to see changes and needs in an aging parent
  • Refusal of care and help by an aging parent
  • Unresolved angers, disputes between parent and adult child or other siblings      

For many families eldercare can feel like an incredible task just outside of the scope of what is possible. How do we find time to make the right decisions, come to a consensus on issues we disagree on, work through our particular dynamics, and ultimately care for aging parents?   

In truth, we make this movement many times in our lives, whether it is in our careers, getting married, having children, starting a business, writing a book. Growth means that we are engaged in doing the things that are just past our current capabilities. The “impossible” slowly slides into the “doable”, which slowly becomes a new normal. We look back and wonder how in the world did we accomplish all that? Eldercare is no exception. Here are a few tips to help you manage the dynamics and find a new normal:  

Tips for Navigating Family Dynamics: 

  • Be aware of your own fears/ vulnerabilities: They have a way of creeping up on you and shaping your behaviors and interactions with your siblings and aging parents. Seeing a parent age can often feel as though you are catching a reflection of your own future. Will this be me? Their vulnerabilities can remind us of our own physical, financial, and emotional vulnerabilities. 
  • Remember, we are all adults here. That includes your aging parents. It is imperative to respect their wishes and concerns even if they differ from your own. We never “parent our parents” but accompany and empower them in their decision making.  
  • Set up rules for conversation: When having family meetings, setting up ground rules may feel silly, but they can make all the difference. Respect each voice in the conversation by not talking over one another, start and end at a designated time, choose a neutral setting, have an agenda, don’t make decisions without good information/research, and don’t try and cover everything in one sitting.     
  • Manage eldercare expectations: Maybe you didn’t think you would be the one providing care to an aging parent, or the one to be the financial power of attorney. Managing expectations is crucial. Be honest with your family about what you are able to do and what help you will need. Part of managing expectations is setting boundaries.
  • Manage personal expectations: It is easy for our eldercare responsibilities to be compounded by the weight of our own expectations. Perhaps we want to resolve old conflicts, hear the words we never heard from a parent, and create a different relationship all while providing care and handling logistics. Becoming aware of your own expectations is the first step to helping manage them into a reasonable list.
  • Find support: While you are accompanying an aging loved one it is important to have individuals accompany and support you and help you work through your own grief, frustration, and challenges. This might look like a mixture of friends, a mental health counselor, faith communities, or healthcare professionals. 

At Sound Options, Professional Care Managers are experts in eldercare and can help your family navigate the dynamics, mediate conversations, and understand your options. Making good choices for your family begins with having good information and good conversations. Gather around our table and begin with a 1-hour consultation with a Registered Nurse or Masters of Social Work. 800.628.7649.   

Published on January 21, 2015.