Providing the very best care to your parents is already complicated. But when you add brothers, sisters, and other family members to the mix, sometimes being the family caregiver becomes overwhelming. While loved ones can potentially offer enormous support while you care for a beloved senior citizen, they can often be a huge source of stress. And sometimes, it turns into fighting over parents’ care. We’ve not only put together some stories from caregivers in the trenches, but we’ve also outlined some helpful tips you can use to cope with the fighting and frustration that can occur when caring for a family member.
Caregiver burnout and stress
Being an in-home caregiver for a loved one comes with a price. Studies show that caregivers deal with chronic stress. That can compromise an individual’s psychological and physical health, eventually leading to caregiver burnout. One common adverse effect of caregiving is depression. And caring for a loved one with dementia is especially challenging and is linked to more negative health effects for caregivers.
One caregiver gave us a look at how stressful caregiving can be:
- “My mother-in-law had dementia, and no one in the family wanted to accept the fact that she was getting worse. It left me with all the care. Even my husband was blind to it. I was trying to take care of everyone and felt so angry all the time because I had no help. Anytime I brought it up to my husband (her son), we’d end up fighting because he’d accuse me of not loving his mother. It nearly wrecked my mental health and our marriage.” – Janelle B.
Caregiving: when siblings and other family members get involved
As if the caregiver duties aren’t overwhelming enough, family members often get involved, and fights ensue. According to the AARP, siblings caring for their parents may clash over who will perform care, the type of care that’s best, and how to pay for it all. Old family jealousies, trust issues, power struggles, and resentments only exacerbate these conflicts.
Unfortunately, one sibling is often left doing all the caring while other family members make their life even more difficult. To learn more about the fighting and challenges a family caregiver can face, we talked to people who are living this reality. Here are a few of their stories:
- “While caring for my husband with dementia, his sister would often say things like, ‘You’re not working, you’re just doing a wife’s duty.’ Though I agree that I committed to my husband in sickness and in health, caregiving is at a much higher level of skill than I was prepared for. I put myself into it 100%, so I didn’t appreciate her inability to be compassionate. It didn’t help when she would question me about how I was using our finances for his caregiving. Let me be brutally honest – we don’t have finances! Otherwise, I would hire a professional. In the end, she was making an already difficult situation much worse. My husband and I agreed we had to cut her out until she could be more respectful.” – Fran S.
- “When caring for my mother with dementia, she became very demanding, mean, and would even call people to tell them untrue stories about me. I tried to talk to my sisters about what was going on and the need for more advanced care. But they’d never seen our mother like this and blamed me. I felt like I was living in a war zone and my sisters couldn’t understand why I needed some outside help to care for my mother.” – Jane Z.
- “While I was caring full-time for my mother in her home, I needed to take a break for my own health. A family member suggested I find a hotel to bring my mother along instead of finding an appropriate care situation. He had no clue what I was dealing with daily. I tried to help him understand the value of a respite stay for her at a local assisted living, but he simply couldn’t understand why I wouldn’t bring her on holiday.” – Hilary B.
- “I took care of my aging father while he was dying with cancer. In his last weeks, I was there by his side every day, and my brother just didn’t even care. He was nowhere to be found. He didn’t show up. I’d try to get him to come to see our father, and we’d fight because he didn’t want to be roped into helping with the care. It was hurting my father, and that hurt me in those final weeks.” – Mike R.
According to Humana insurance company, many people say that dealing with their unhelpful siblings is one of the most stressful parts of being a family caregiver. It’s tough in the trenches, but don’t let family fighting make you forget the real goal: looking out for your parent’s well being.
Tips for coping with family friction
So how can you deal with a lack of understanding and fighting among family members as you work to care for your loved one? Here are a few tips that can help you avoid fighting over parents’ care and help win you some support from your family.
- Tip #1: Avoid over-simplifying the situation – Don’t oversimplify your situation or the situation of your sibling or other loved one. Remember, everyone has a unique relationship with your parent, so everyone has a different outlook. Realize that family relationships are complicated even in the best of times.
- Tip #2: Ask yourself what you really want from siblings – You’re feeling overwhelmed with your role as the family caregiver, but what do you really want from your siblings? Do you want help with hands-on care? Do you need them to give you time off? Do you need financial contribution? Or do you merely want emotional support and appreciation? When you know what you want, communicate this to your family. Ask for help clearly and be very specific.
- Tip #3: Take care in how you ask for help – According to Caregiver.org, if there’s already fighting over caregiving, you need to take care in how you ask for help. Don’t emotionally charge your requests with anger and guilt. That immediately makes people defensive. And remember, sometimes a sibling could be questioning you because they have real concerns for their parent.
- Tip #4: Get help from an objective professional – Families already have very long, complicated histories, and watching a loved one begin to fail and need assistance can be very emotional. Sometimes it’s just tough to communicate without bringing up old battles or misinterpreting what the other person is saying. You may need to bring in an objective professional like a geriatric care manager, social worker, or family therapist to help you work through your disagreements so you can focus on the most important thing – your loved one’s wellbeing.
- Tip #5: Let go and focus on your loved one – At some point, for the sake of your own mental health and the health of your loved one, you may have to just let go of the fighting with family members. Some caregivers had to stop contact with family members when the relationship became too toxic. Others have had to work past the fighting, forgive, and move forward together to care for their parent.
Beyond the complaining, fighting, and frustration, focusing on quality care for your loved one is critical. But along the way, don’t forget to care for your own physical and mental health. Use coping strategies, perform self-care, and remember that caring for yourself is a crucial part of ensuring you can continue to be the best possible caregiver for your parent.