Caregiver Question | 01/26/24

Shouldn’t family make this easier?!?

DEAR CARALLEL: My mother passed away back in 2018 and Dad has gone steadily downhill ever since. He’s 79 years old and relatively healthy but the heartbreak of losing his partner in crime of 51 years has taken a big toll on him.

The first year after Mom was gone was rough and then it got rougher with the pandemic. I’d hoped Dad would turn a corner once we got through that, stop isolating himself from the people and things he used to do when Mom was still here, but it didn’t happen and here we are.

Anyhow, my brother, sister and I all live within 20 minutes of his condo with me being the closest, just five minutes away. Which is why I’m sending this email.

My siblings seem to think that I should do all the work because I happen to live a few minutes closer than they do. It’s gotten to the point that I am the only one on call when Dad needs a ride to the doctor or needs groceries.  I am also the one who visits him several times a week to make sure he’s not too lonely. 

I’m happy for the time we spend together but at the same time I feel like I’m being taken advantage of and It grinds my gears. Even worse is that while I’m doing all of the work, they’re happy to share their opinions and play armchair quarterback about what I do and the decisions I make.

After Mom died I thought we’d tackle being there for Dad as a team but that’s not what’s happening. Shouldn’t family make this easier? Caring for him is hard enough and they’re making it harder. Help! What should I do? – Mark in Norman, OK

DEAR MARK: I’m stating the obvious here but caring for the ones we love is hard work. Less obvious is that for millions of us, family dynamics make it even harder. So you’re definitely not alone. And I’m glad you wrote in! 

I wish I could tell you that there’s an easy button you can hit to change the situation, but there isn’t. However, I do have some ideas that could help you and your siblings begin to get on the same page. 

And that’ll need to happen before you can get to a place where they’re making it easier instead of harder. Have a look and let me know what you think.

Tell them how your feeling 

Calling a meeting with your brother and sister could be a good way to do this. It’d be best if you could pick a time that’s convenient for all parties, and a place that’s comfortable with limited distractions. 

Once you have the meeting set, you might consider sending an agenda ahead of time so your siblings know what to expect. 

As for the meeting itself, try to begin by stating your intentions and stick to the facts as much as you can throughout the conversation. To state your intentions, you might say something like this: 

I called this meeting because I need help with Dad and I need to talk with you about it. 

Meanwhile, taking some notes ahead of time can help you stay fact based throughout the discussion. Think about each day of the week and write down what you do, how much time it takes, how this impacts you (i.e. missed work, other family obligations, no time for yourself etc). 

Having these notes to refer to, or even share with your siblings, during the meeting can be a good way to stay grounded in the facts and avoid letting the emotions of it all creep in. 

Speaking of emotions, family relationships are loaded with them. As such, I recognize that what I’m suggesting here is easier said than done. But I believe it’s a necessary step. 

And once you take it, you can begin thinking about the ideas below–all of which can hopefully get you to that place where you and your siblings truly are, in your words “tackling being there for your Dad like a team”. 

Define Roles

Think about what your siblings like to do and what they’re able to do. And how far away they live, which in your case is pretty close.

Phone calls, research, bills, transportation, shopping, housework, companionship/entertainment, and meals each need someone in charge.

Keep in touch

Find a way to update each other on a regular basis. It often helps when people know what others are doing. This visibility can put the whole group at ease.

Get creative. Group texts? Zoom calls? Meet for coffee on set days?

Pick whatever works best for you and your siblings and remember that when it comes to caregiving, there’s no such thing as over-communicating! 

Respect Each Other

This may seem obvious but level-setting on it might help to eliminate the armchair quarterbacking you mentioned. When the loads are heavy and tensions are high, having respect can be tough.

But if everyone can assume everyone else is doing their best, focusing on their own role, and staying in their own lane–then you’ll all benefit. 

Involve Your Dad

Consider including your Dad in discussions and decisions when appropriate. This can sometimes reduce doubts about what others are doing and in your case, might be another way to stem some of the second-guessing you’re feeling.

Set Realistic Expectations

The roles won’t be divided up equally. Period. And that’s okay as long as everyone has a role and people are respecting one another.  

Which would be different–better and more sustainable–than the current situation where you play all the roles while your siblings play one–armchair quarterback.

You’ve got this, Mark!

Hope this helps,

–Jennifer, Carallel Care Advocate

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