Family Dynamics and Caregiving

By Barbara Small

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Providing care for a family member can bring out the best - and the worst - in everyone involved. People can come together to support each other or the stress can lead to frustration and conflict between family members.

Past dynamics and family roles often re-surface when dealing with the stress of caregiving. All those old issues and unresolved tensions can often re-emerge.

Important to keep in mind is that everyone will respond to the situation in his or her own way. Frustration can occur if you expect other people to feel or act the same as you. Everyone in the family comes with a different history and perspective; a different relationship with the person who is ill; and a different comfort level with illness and the associated emotions.

Also, family members each have their own strengths. Some will excel at the personal care aspect of caregiving, while others cringe from it. Others may thrive by doing housework, gardening, repairs or dealing with finances. Let people work in the areas where they shine.

Even when two people are both doing the same duty, they may still do it differently. How you provide personal care to your spouse may be different than how his sister does when she relieves you. Different does not mean wrong. Ask yourself whether it is really worth butting heads over.

Family meetings are important for keeping everyone up-to-date regarding the care-recipient’s health, as well as to delegate duties. The goal at these meetings is not to resolve long-time family issues, but to ensure everyone is on the same team, and to sort out what needs to be done. It can also be an opportunity for current concerns to be aired and miscommunications to be cleared up.

Here are some suggestions for how family members can work together when caregiving:

* Start early. Clarify tasks and responsibilities. Be concrete, specific and ensure everyone has interpreted the plan the same.

* Have one person (usually the primary caregiver) be responsible for co-ordinating what needs to be done and for keeping family members in the loop.

* Let others know their help is both wanted and needed.

* Be realistic in your expectations as to what each person is able to do.

* Express appreciation to each other for the help each is able to provide.

* Expect and accept differences of opinion and reactions and find ways to compromise. Keep in mind that everyone has the right to his or her own feelings and point of view. You can agree to disagree and still complete the caregiving tasks as needed.

* Take a moment to recognize what is old conflict and what is related to the current situation. Try to put aside long-time grudges for now so everyone has the energy to deal with caregiving.

Next issue: Can you prepare in advance for being a caregiver?





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