Special to The Record
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.
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 are caring for often become the “experts” and this can feel intimidating for long-distance caregivers or for those working full time or raising a family. This lack of confidence may come across as criticism simply because that person just “doesn’t know”. The primary caregiver can be so used to “doing it all”, they may have a difficult time letting go of the reins. Being honest about what each caregiver needs and inviting each other into a dialogue around problem solving puts everyone on the level ground.
• Be careful how competent you are: Caregivers need to be very competent when it comes to caring for elderly parents. Sometimes, family caregivers don’t realize the primary caregiver needs a break because they make it look so easy. Be open and willing to share your feelings of burnout and ask for help.
• Give yourself extra time: One of the best way out-of-town caregivers can help is to come and 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 down. Being specific about the type of help that is needed is also very helpful and primary caregivers should consider writing a detailed list.
• Know what you want: If you’re the main 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.
Wendy Johnstone is a gerontologist and is the founder of Keystone Eldercare Solutions. Her column runs regularly in the Comox Valley Record.