Mixing holidays and family produces some level of tension for each of us. When you add caring for an aging parent into the mix, those levels can easily skyrocket.
Paula Spencer, author, family life specialist, and senior editor for Caring.com, an online destination that supports family caregivers, says that holidays actually present a great time for families to productively discuss critical caregiving issues. And if you're the caregiver, it's a good time to reevaluate your parent’s or loved one's needs and share what it has meant to be the caregiver.
“If you feel you're carrying too much of the burden, bring it up with family members,” says Spencer. “They may not realize the reality of what the care requires or how much you're doing. In a calm, quiet moment, explain how you feel and what you see in a matter-of-fact, nonconfrontational way.”
Spencer, who served as a caregiver herself, offers these four tips to help your family have meaningful and productive conversations that result in healthy support and positive actions:
• Use “I” statements. Avoid “you” statements that put others on the defensive, making them less likely to listen and more likely to attack. Shift the focus and put the emphasis on you: “I'm not sure I'm being understood,” or “When this happens, I feel like . . .”
• Be specific. Think about specifics that really make things easier on you rather than just telling your sister that you need help caring for Mom. Ask for help with grocery shopping, or have a cousin take Mom to doctor's appointments. You might learn that family members are relieved to learn about specific ways to participate in the caregiving.
• Focus on your loved one. Remember this is about providing the best support you can for your parent or relative. It's not about personal preferences or old family habits. If things get off-track, ask, “How is this helping Dad?”
• Ask questions to gain understanding. Don't assume you know what your brother's comment meant. Ask questions, and you might find out something surprising that sheds a whole new light on the situation.
Taking the time to lay out these communication ground rules with your family will help you navigate this stressful time with less tension and more positive interactions.
Being a caregiver is a generous, loving, and difficult thing to do, and with today's resources you don't have to go it alone. “I experienced just about everything that's on the Caring.com site: dealing with their illnesses, moving Dad, organizing advance directives, handling end-of-life-planning, finding hospice, coping with death – and stress,” says Spencer. “Sites like Caring.com provide articles, resources, expert tips, and a community of caregivers who understand your challenges. Using these rich resources can help you with the many aspects of caregiving that arise all year round.”