Caring for aging parents comes with many challenges for any family; for blended or stepfamilies, additional issues can surface like conflicted loyalties or who owns decision-making. Over 40% of us have at least one step-relative and most will be in a situation where eldercare will be an issue within the family. Researcher Carey Wexler Sherman who studied blended families and Alzheimer’s care concluded “a lack of shared family history and norms likely affect the way stepfamily members cope with the demands of taking care of a loved one with dementia.”
But eldercare in stepfamilies doesn’t have to be contentious. In fact, there are several actions that you can take — whether you are the parent, biological relative, or step-relative — to promote compassion and cooperation.
Plan for possible futures. One of the best steps to take is to complete advance care planning before a change occurs. Deciding what is important to you and who will be authorized to make medical decisions for you is key to ensuring you get the care you want. However, sharing those decisions with all family members is just as critical. When everyone knows what the plan is — or should be — it’s easier for everyone to affirm and support the decisions. Take the same approach with estate planning and any other important considerations.
Be inclusive with boundaries. In some situations, specific individuals will have the legal authority to make the decisions. Though everyone may not like it, the arrangement must be respected. That said, whomever is taking the lead whether for medical decisions, day-to-day care, financial management, or anything else, they need to meaningfully involve the others. Stressful situations like caregiving can ignite and fuel small disagreements into big resentments. Respectful and open communication can be a balm so no one gets burned by a surprise. One of the simplest ways to do this is to acknowledge a person’s feelings and desires, even if you may not agree with them.
Know what you can control. There will be twists and turns throughout the eldercare journey. You may not be able to change people’s reactions or emotions; you may not even be able to manage your own feelings. But you can control your behavior. For example, it can be difficult to recruit assistance in caregiving. While you cannot “make” anyone help out, you can be calm, specific, and direct with requests, repeating them as needed and explaining their purpose or importance. This does not mean you can’t be sad, frustrated, or angry, it just means that expressing feelings should be respectful. Everyone is working toward the same goal: caring for the loved one.
Eldercare in blended families can be hard but not impossible. With planning, understanding, and respect, you can create your own integrated story about a family who came together to be a caregiving bunch.