The Empowered Caregiver: Collaborating with Family

AdobeStock_125116470-300x200The third installment of this series is about how to manage some of the family dynamics that come with collaborating on caregiving.

Very few people are lucky enough to be part of a family that exists in perfect harmony, agrees on all decisions, and divides caregiving responsibilities and costs equally. The rest of us have to carefully navigate the challenges of working together for the benefit of an aging loved one.

As you venture into the role of caregiver alongside siblings or other family members, there are a few things you can do to help smooth the way for yourself and your caregiving partners. No matter what your situation, the best approach involves self-knowledge, communication, and flexibility. 

Know thyself: Assess what you can offer, and what you need.

Before you start the conversation with your siblings or other family members, take some time to think about your own situation: what you’d like to do to help, what you’re able to do to help, and what you may not be willing or able to do.

Be honest with yourself. Try not to overestimate how much you can put on your plate without risking physical or emotional burnout. 

AdobeStock_111401441-300x200Talk it out: Have regular family meetings. 

If at all possible, it’s best to start having family meetings about caregiving scenarios before there’s a crisis. Because life is busy, most families end up waiting to have these hard conversations until they are in the middle of an emergency and everyone is scrambling. 

Instead, make some time — maybe once a year — to start talking about what might happen, what plans are already in place, where everyone is in terms of availability and resources, and how each family member might like to help. Start laying the groundwork early, and things will come together much more quickly and easily when it’s time to take action.

Handle with care: Be sensitive and flexible.

Every family has its baggage. As you engage with siblings and others on the subject of cooperative caregiving, be aware of family dynamics and history. Remember that this is difficult for everyone, including your aging parent.

Try not to make assumptions — give people the opportunity to show up. Practice good listening skills that focus on being open minded instead of defensive. Understand that each person on your prospective caregiving team has different skills, resources, and strengths to bring to the table; and avoid judging anyone’s contribution as less than another’s. 

It’s also important to remember that the situation will likely change over time, so your original plan is not written in stone. Everyone will need to adapt as things change, and it’s likely to get harder rather than easier. Consistent communication is key, as is being there to support each other. 

Embrace family differences. Establish clear expectations.

Safely traversing the complex landscape of family dynamics while caregiving requires self-awareness, open communication, and flexibility. You need to understand everyone’s capabilities and limitations (including your own), and learn to manage tasks and crises in a way that preserves (and maybe even strengthens) existing relationships. It’s not an easy task, but it’s one that’s well worth the effort.

In the fourth and final  installment of our series, we will explore practical strategies for self-care while caregiving.

Related Posts:

The Empowered Caregiver: Essential Skills and Knowledge 

The Empowered Caregiver: Learning to Accept Help

Caring for Your Parents?  5 Sibling Disputes and How to Avoid Them

Siblings Caring for Parents: How to Make it Work

The Money Talk: Why, When and How

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