Hot-button triggers of family conflict among caregivers

By Wendy Johnstone
May 14, 2015

In my business, the services we provide affect both the aging person and their family members. Conflict between adult children and their parents if probably the most common situation we come across.

Children typically feel Mom and Dad need more help. Mom or Dad, on the other hand, disagree and are willing to take numerous risks to remain independent. The second most common area our consultations with families include is addressing a “difference of opinions” between family caregivers.

An example would be a brother wanting to talk to this Dad about no longer driving based on a near accident and changes in Dad’s eyesight. The sister, on the other hand, takes the stance that Dad’s independence is linked to his driving and until the physician says otherwise, Dad should continue to drive, taking safety into consideration.

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.
Certain situations and stressors are hot button trigger, leading to family conflict.

Money, Money: Spending too much of the inheritance, spending too little, not enough in the bank to cover the costs of caring – money can be a big stress for families. Families can be faced with very tough caregiving decisions when it comes to how money is spent or if they need to spend some of their own savings to top up Mom or Dad’s income.

When The Bottom Falls Out: When a health care crisis happens, decisions often have to be made in a very short period of time. Sometimes not all family members are consulted. Emotions can run high and can lead to “old hurts”. Differences in opinions on a family member’s abilities and what should be done about it. You may be convinced that your Dad is no longer capable of managing finances, while your brothers disagrees and feels strongly about continued independence. Dad who has mild cognitive impairment, wants to remain as independent as possible and also recognizes a change in his own abilities but doesn’t necessarily want to admit this to his family.

Childhood rivalries: Mature adults often find that they’re back in the sandbox when their family gets together. This tendency can grow even more pronounced under the strain of caregiving.

Feeling “Sandwiched” in Life: Many caregivers can’t believe just how many directions they are pulled in – caring for their loved one, parenting and supporting children, honoring one’s spouse, keeping up at work and trying to navigate the gamut of health care providers and changes with our aging loved ones. Add the imbalance of caregiving duties and you’ve got the perfect Petri dish for family conflict.

Long Distance Caring: Long-distance caregivers often feel left out of decisions or get information second hand. Sometimes caring from afar creates tension – long distance caregivers aren’t able to help more, or they make suggestions that put a sibling locally in a defensive position.
Next column, we will talk about some strategies on how to minimize family conflict.

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“You are amazing! What I tried to do in 2 months, you did in 1 week. You’ve helped us navigate the system, made sense of Mom’s disease, and gave back her independence and control. Thank you for making such a difference in Mom’s life and giving us, her family, complete peace of mind.”

– Mike G., Nanaimo, BC

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