When Family Members Disagree: Holding a Productive Caregiving Meeting

You probably think that providing love, care, and support to an older member of your family is a personal thing. At one level or another, you feel a sense of responsibility. You have a role to fill. But remember, eldercare is also a family matter—an important, appropriate part of the family's agenda. So, everyone's goal has to be staying focused, honest, open, and fair with one another.

Assessing Your Family Strengths and Weaknesses

When your spouse, parents or grandparents need help, and other family members consult about it, unresolved family issues may get in the way of effective helping. Revisiting and reopening long-standing family issues of sibling rivalry, parental favoritism, and other family problems during the last months or years of a parent's life is an easy trap to fall into.

The best way to minimize these problems is to be aware of their possibility and avoid them consciously. Work with your siblings and other involved family members to focus your interactions around the older person's needs and best interests, not other family business. If necessary, have a friend or professional counselor meet and talk with you to move the discussion along.

You probably are not going to change the basic dynamics in your family. Try not to let caregiving issues become an emotional battle between family members. It helps to recognize going into the caregiving role that some people are going to give more than others. Often, there is not much that can be done to correct this imbalance of involvement. However, much can be done in terms of support and affirmation. Those carrying the major responsibility for managing or providing care need both help and appreciation. Do what you can, and support those who are doing the rest.

Family Communication Skills

When it comes to family communication, it's never too late to improve. Even families with long histories of not communicating very well—or at all—can learn to share their views and ideas for meeting the eldercare needs of parents, grandparents, or other older relatives. If your family is "communication-challenged," try these simple tips:

  • Think of family communication as an opportunity for personal and family growth.
  • Put your issues and concerns out on the table for discussion. Do others see the situation the way you do? Be open to give and take, but try to move in the direction of a consensus about what the eldercare needs and opportunities really are.
  • Be inclusive. Draw out what each family member is thinking and feeling, including the older person you are trying to support and care for.
  • Stick with it. Reaching consensus usually takes some work. Be willing to give it the time and effort it requires.
  • Be open to both asking for and accepting help. The whole idea is to not "go it alone."
  • Share the load. Make sure there is basic fairness going on in terms of the financial, time, and emotional costs of the family's overall eldercare efforts.
  • Know when to say "no." If the "fairness" message is not getting through, or if you are simply stretched beyond your capacity, it may be a time to decline some tasks and speak with another family member about sharing them.
  • If necessary, call in a professional. A geriatric care manager, eldercare attorney or therapist can serve as mediator when things become contentious or come to an impasse.

SOURCE: Assisting Hands Home Care in association with IlluminAge; © IlluminAge 2013