Navigating difficult or awkward conversations can, if not handled correctly, create conflict between caregivers and the people they are caring for. Whether it is someone caring for a relative with a disability such as a brain injury or developmental disability or an adult child caring for an aging parent, avoiding conflict or dealing with tension is a common topic we hear about.
Caregivers sometimes feel the person they are caring for needs more help. The person being cared for, on the other hand, may disagree and they may be willing to take numerous risks to remain independent. Sometimes, family members providing care don’t agree on what is the best solution!
Providing care for a family member can bring out the best and the worst in everyone involved. People can come together to support each other or the stress can lead to frustration and conflict between family members.
Certain situations and stressors are hot button triggers, which can lead to family conflict.
Spending too much of the inheritance, spending too little, or not having enough in the bank to cover the costs of caring – money can be a big stress for families. Families can face very tough caregiving decisions when it comes to how money is spent or if they need to spend some of their own savings to top up Mom or Dad’s income.
When The Bottom Falls Out
When a health care crisis happens, decisions often have to be made in a very short period of time. Sometimes, not all family members are consulted. Emotions can run high and can lead to “old hurts”. There may be different opinions about a family member’s abilities and what should be done about that. You may be convinced that your Dad is no longer capable of managing finances, while your brother disagrees and feels strongly about continued independence. Dad, who has mild cognitive impairment, wants to remain as independent as possible, and while he recognizes a change in his own abilities, he doesn’t necessarily want to admit this to his family.
Mature adults often find that they’re back in the sandbox when their family gets together. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving.
Feeling “Sandwiched” in Life
Many caregivers can’t believe how many directions they get pulled in – caring for their loved one, parenting and supporting children, honouring their spouse, keeping up at work, and trying to navigate the gamut of health care providers. Add the imbalance of caregiving duties and you’ve got the perfect petri dish for family conflict.
Long Distance Caring
Long-distance caregivers often feel left out of decisions or get information second-hand. Sometimes, caring from afar creates tension. Long-distance caregivers aren’t able to help more, or they may make suggestions that put a sibling living locally in a defensive position.
Here are some tips to minimize family conflict when caring for aging relatives:
- Stay on equal footing: Family members who are the primary caregiver for the people they’re caring for often become the “experts”, which can feel intimidating for long-distance caregivers, or for those working full-time or raising a family. The primary caregiver can be so used to “doing it all” that they may have a difficult time letting go of the reins. Be honest about what each caregiver needs and invite one another into a dialogue around problem solving puts everyone on level ground.
- Be careful about how competent you are: Caregivers need to be very competent when it comes to caring for elderly parents. Sometimes, family members don’t realize the primary caregiver needs a break because they make the work look so easy. Be open and willing to share your feelings if you’re experiencing burnout. Ask for help.
- Give yourself extra time: One of the best ways long-distance caregivers can help is to travel to help in person. There can be a lot to talk about, so prepare to come a little earlier so the primary caregiver doesn’t feel rushed or stressed about getting all the information ready for you. Be specific about the type of help needed, and write a list detailing it all.
- Know what you want: If you’re the primary caregiver, be clear. Do you want a sibling to relieve you at some point? Do you want whoever can afford it to hire someone to come in and help you? Or, do you actually want to be in charge of everything, but want to be acknowledged and thanked?
- Share financials: Caregivers who are given financial authority should share details about expenses with the others on the care team, even when not asked. Being transparent helps to build trust.
- Be part of the solution: If you find yourself in conflict with a family member, step back and get some perspective. Consider your role in the conflict, and ask yourself if you’re acting out an old family role or resentment. Avoid talking when angry and seek support and insight.
As a family caregiver, you’ll be faced with many difficult decisions, many of which you don’t need to face alone. Involve and get help from family members, support groups, and professionals. Be transparent about what you need and don’t be afraid to ask for a break from time-to-time. If you can look beyond old family drama and focus on serving the person you care for, and taking care of yourself as well, you’ll feel less stressed and clearer about your role. Let people help, and know you can call Family Caregivers of BC’s support line when you need help.