Involving Others: Family, Friends,
Peter, 45, lives six hours from his mother; his sister lives much closer—only five minutes away. Their late father had kept the finances in good order, so it was easy for the two children to help their mother carry on. When in her late 60s she began to need more care, Peter, his partner, and his sister sat down with her to talk about the future.
Peter’s sister now takes care of many practical, day-to-day details; she visits her mother almost every day, knows her doctors, and hires local help when needed. Peter and his partner, for their part, now deal with the larger financial issues that Peter’s father used to handle. When it became clear that Peter’s mother was too isolated, for example, they oversaw the details involved in buying her a new house in town.
Adapted from Caring for Your Parents
Surveys show that most caregivers do have help—and many feel that other family members do their share. Like so much of caregiving, however, getting help and using it to the best advantage involves people skills. While other family members are not the only ones who can assist, working with them constructively might be a particular challenge. Although those we love can be a wonderful source of emotional support, the reality is that in times of stress we often have less to give to each other—and old family roles and resentments can surface. This article provides ideas to help families overcome barriers and build a supportive network that both adult children and their parents need.
Issues You May Face In most families, one person assumes the primary role, because he or she is closest geographically, closer to the parent emotionally, or simply a take-charge person. While this person’s role is often the most time-consuming and stressful, all those involved face similar issues, such as:
- Involving the parents. Unless your parents are severely incapacitated, they should always retain decision-making power and be a central part of all discussions surrounding their care. However, honoring their preferences adds to the complexity of eldercare. It can be difficult for adult children to determine which types of assistance their parents will prefer.
- Involving the family. Children, grandchildren, nieces, nephews, and close friends are obvious choices for help. However, distant relatives, acquaintances—such as the people in your father’s civic groups or your mother’s circle from church—neighbors, and community organizations also can provide support. Even your own friends who’ve had a similar experience may help. While not all of these folks may volunteer to help out, they may be quite willing to get involved. Suggest little tasks—walking the dog, running an errand, watering the garden.
- Feeling reluctant to ask for help? You hesitate to pester your brother for help, worried that he’ll refuse or that a confrontation may result. Your husband is already fixing more meals at home, minding the children more, and socializing less because of your responsibilities with your father. Can you really ask him to step it up? You don’t even know your parents’ friends, so how can you approach them for assistance? Feelings like these are natural, and in some cases you should hold back. However, some people may need only a little encouragement to help out. They may even feel hurt or left out if you don’t seek their assistance. Don't assume others are too busy to help.
- Dealing with changed relationships. Caring for a parent can affect all your relationships. Brothers and sisters who may have been at the fringes of your life may now take center stage. Your spouse and children may feel neglected, and any tension in your marriage may increase. Colleagues at your job may provide a diversion, but even if they are sympathetic, they still need your work on time. Walking tightropes like these can increase your stress.
- Joining the “sandwich generation.” When you have both older parents and children who need your time and attention, you may feel pulled from both sides and what may appear to be conflicting demands. You find little time for yourself. This situation can leave you feeling guilty and inadequate, yet it may not occur to you to ask for help.
- For tips on how to relieve caregiver stress, go to "Managing the Stress"
Get Help Caring for your parents and loved ones is one of the most important jobs you will tackle. Here are some steps you can take to make the job manageable and get the best outcome:
- Talk with your parents about the importance of working together as partners in meeting their needs. Your parents are probably concerned about being a burden and losing control of their lives. Talk openly about the issues and agree on ground rules. Establish limits so your parents don’t form unrealistic expectations.
- Make a list of what needs to be done and then plan for it. Your parents and others who will take on key responsibilities should be involved from the start. This organized approach puts you in control and reduces the stress that comes from loose ends and surprises. It ensures that your parents get all the assistance they need. And, back-up plans are critical. In fact, being available for back-up is a huge role that hopefully someone will be willing to play. Be sure to write down your plans and schedules, and give all those involved a copy.
- Don’t accept excuses without suggesting other tasks a person could do. A sibling who lives far away can still help with jobs such as bills, doctors, seeking out local agencies, or initiating phone visits. People with childcare responsibilities can still cook meals or bring the children along for visits and outings with their Grandma. Children can even help with yard work and house cleaning.
- Contact your community and other nonfamily sources of help.
Approaches to consider: Ask a parent‘s friend to pick up groceries or get books from the library, a neighbor’s child to adopt your parent as a grandparent, or a local teenager to help with yard work for a manageable fee. See if a civic group can provide volunteer home repair or transportation services. Ask the paper carrier, a barber, or an apartment superintendent to call you if anything seems wrong. Ask the post office if there is a program in your parents' area for mail carriers to look for problems and check on older residents.
- Hold family meetings.
Approaches to consider: Limit participation to siblings or others directly involved in care. Bring in distant family by phone. Choose a neutral party to moderate if necessary. Draw up a clear agenda for each meeting, and agree on rules of conduct—don’t interrupt, stick to time limits, clarify differences, avoid argument, stick to the facts, and focus the discussion on how to care for your parents.
- Involve your spouse.
Approaches to consider: Clarify your responsibilities concerning both sets of parents. For example, do you both take care of only your parents, or do you help with both sets of parents? Will you both go with each other to visit parents? Be specific about how your spouse can help, and suggest particular tasks. Thank him or her for their efforts. Recognize that your responsibilities also affect your spouse, and encourage him or her to talk it out. Your marriage is a priority—keep it that way.
- Involve your children.
Approaches to consider: Be honest with them about the situation. Take time to listen to their concerns. Encourage their questions and answer these thoroughly. Spend time doing something fun with them, and ask for their help—teenagers can drive Grandma to the store, and even a toddler can make her feel loved.
Some of this material appears in slightly different form in Caring For Your Parents: The Complete AARP Guide.
© 2003, 2004, 2007 AARP. Reprinting by permission only.