I can’t do this by myself you know. They’re your Parents too!
by Diane Slovin,
PAC Organizational Outreach Director
In honor of National Family Caregiver Support month, I thought it would be interesting to look at Caring for the Care Partner, but not exactly self-care in the moment – although that is monumentally important. I wanted to look into how we are caring for ourselves in regards to nurturing and preserving relationships with our siblings, while we are at the same time serving as caregivers for our parents or another elderly loved one in our family. After all, our siblings are the ones who will be with us for the long haul (we hope) even after our parents have passed away. It’s smart to think about the dynamics of those relationships (now and even in these times of stress, frustration, and sometime, misdirected anger) and have a plan for who does what - when, how, and from where.
Often one sibling is serving in the role of boots on the ground. They are in the trenches, so to speak, with daily/weekly shopping, schlepping to appointments, and other errands. And most importantly, let’s not forget that in their free time, they are often spending quality time with this person who still is your parent, they’re just different now and your relationship with them is different, too.
According to Francine Russo, author of the book, They’re Your Parents, Too! How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents’ Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy,
“The permutations of our family roles are many and multilayered. You may have been the child appointed to raise the family banner high — because you were smart or good-looking or great at sports — and so you got out of doing things the others got stuck with. Or maybe that was your brother. Perhaps you were the steady, responsible one that everyone could rely on. Or the hapless little kid who always needed rescuing.”
If any of this sounds familiar and you’re wondering what the heck that has to do with who buys briefs for Mom or who’s supposed to be paying the quarterly taxes for Auntie Sarah, please read on. Russo continues,
“Family roles that may have worked when kids were kids and parents were parents are not likely to function well in this new dynamic. Families work as a unit, with each person’s role complementing and supporting the other. After decades apart, however, everyone is changed. If Mom was the decision-maker, for example, she may be too frail or have dementia. If Dad was the peacemaker, maybe he’s gone. So families need to adapt.”
How you adapt is the key to whether or not your family will survive this challenging time. As we may not realize, but Teepa often reminds us, four in five families will fall apart before their deadly struggle with dementia is over. Many families refuse to recognize that dementia will possibly affect them and their lives, so they refuse to make a plan or even consider how they would handle life if dementia enters the picture. Teepa explains that the time to talk about it is now, because “when it’s in your life you barely have time to think, let alone talk.”
So, what can you do now? First, talk! Have the hard conversation. Notice the changes that are occurring with your loved one and acknowledge them. Often the siblings that parachute in and out don’t recognize the changes because they aren’t really seeing the day-to-day challenges of their loved one. Often, people living with dementia are very social and pretty adept in social situations and making social chit chat, and it’s difficult for the person who isn’t around often to even recognize “hmmm…something is different here.” So, to quote a popular phrase “If you see something, say something.” You’re not doing anyone any favors by trying to deny what is actually going on. Eventually, you will need to address the changes that you’re seeing.
After you get everyone together and try to get to a common place about possible brain changes that may be occurring, put a plan together. What tasks need to be completed? How can we divide them up so that all the players involved in this family are working together instead of working in silos – not knowing what everyone else’s role is , or even, not being involved at all? How are you supporting each other? Are you taking the time to appreciate the time, energy, and sometimes, financial contributions that your siblings are making? Are some of the tasks, like paying bills, ordering supplies, scheduling doctor appointments, things that can be done by an out of town sibling? Think about what your role can be IF you are an out of town family member. You don’t want to be the one who swoops in, tells everyone what to do, what they’re doing wrong, what they should be doing differently, and then swoops out, right? What can you do even when you’re not local, to feel that you’re part of the plan and not left out. After all, they’re your parents too!
Maybe the plan doesn’t just include tasks, maybe it also includes setting up a schedule of phone calls, Zoom, Facetime, or Skype calls so that everyone is in touch and feels connected. Because after all, as Teepa often tells us, “This is all about the relationship and how we are going to get through this together.”
Still wondering what your next steps should be? Why not share some of PAC’s resources with your siblings? Even if they are out of town there are many virtual opportunities to include them in the discussion and help to provide them with knowledge and skills that YOU may already have, but it might be better if your siblings hear it from PAC rather than you trying to impart this knowledge. (Remember the family dynamics above?) Here are just a few ideas to get you started. Please browse our website for many more available services and resources.
Ask Teepa Anything! – Join our free, open to the public session with Teepa to get any dementia related questions answered by Teepa herself!
Join our Online Support Network – Join us for this Free Online Support Session.
Diane comes to Positive Approach to Care (PAC) from a long-term care environment and found her passion for providing dementia education and support there. She holds a BS in Education from Indiana University and is a lifelong learner. Diane finds that there is still so much to learn by observing, listening to, and interacting with our elders. Her experience facilitating dementia caregiver support groups allowed her the opportunity to provide family members with strength and support during this challenging time in their lives. Prior to coming to PAC, Diane spent years of her career working with children and teens, both as a professional in the not-for-profit arena and also as a board member for a summer camp. She now finds that working with people living with dementia and their family members has become her favorite demographic. As the Organizational Outreach Director for PAC, Diane loves making connections with organizations and sharing available PAC resources and services with them with the goal of increasing the knowledge and skills of their staff, families, and community.