How to Maintain Strong Family Bonds as a Caregiver
If you feel this happening to you, finding a solution is important for both your loved one’s wellness and your own. Studies show that having a poor relationship with the person you provide care for greatly increases any negative effects you may experience as a caregiver, such as depression, stress and exhaustion. It also increases the same negative effects in your loved one, which is likely to have an impact on their overall health.
However, this may be easier said than done. Every family comes with its own history and challenges, and stressful situations can often dredge up old resentments and bad memories. A loved one’s health also involves the whole family, which can lead to conflicts of opinion and arguments over who is or isn’t pitching in enough.
If you and your family are struggling to maintain a good relationship with your loved one and each other, here are some tips to help repair the bond:
1. Take a break
As most families who have gone on a long vacation together know, there can be such a thing as too much togetherness when you never have a break from each other’s company. Even the most close-knit families can find this challenging, since caregiving often blurs certain lines of privacy that may already be blurry due to shared history and knowledge of each other. If you feel you lack free time, it may lead you to feel overburdened, exhausted and unhappy. These negative emotions may build and build until they spill over into your relationship with your loved one and other family members, especially if you aren’t feeling supported.
Giving yourself a break can help reduce these feelings and provide you with the time you need to work through any difficult emotions. A caregiving situation with no room to do this can cause more harm than good, so if your current division of tasks between family members, friends and professional support services leaves you with no openings to live your own life, it may be time to revisit your schedule and make some changes.
2. Communicate effectively
Poor communication can often be a contributing factor of relationship strain. Keep these tips in mind:
Be patient and wait for your loved one to finish phrasing their thoughts before responding to them. Take time with your own responses. People often say harsh things in the heat of the moment, only to regret it later.
Avoid raising your voice or using an angry or defensive tone.
Use tact when bringing up difficult subjects, but try not to avoid them altogether, as this may lead to stress in the future.
Consider your loved one’s feelings, and save conversations that can wait for when they are feeling well rather than when they are tired, upset or stressed.
Share your negative feelings with a close friend or a counselor instead of releasing your anger on your loved one.
If you are the main caregiver, be sure to keep other members of the family informed of important updates and decisions. Family meetings can be a valuable tool, as they give each person a chance to express their thoughts and concerns at the same time, and help you communicate a unified message to everyone rather than having many separate conversations. This will help to reduce misinformation, and make it easier to develop a plan and next steps.
3. Listen to your loved one’s preferences
Oftentimes, tensions can brew between family members and their older loved one because individuals feel like they aren’t being heard. The opinions of older adults in particular often end up ignored in favor of what their family wants to do, leading to resentment and pushback. Caregiving should take the whole family into account, but the wants, needs and preferences of your older loved one should be the guiding star for all major decisions, not an afterthought. Ask your loved one their opinions on the support they need and how they would like to receive it, and try your best to accommodate their wishes while still prioritizing their health, safety and future needs.
4. Explore resources
If you are still struggling to maintain a positive relationship with a loved one, don’t be afraid to seek outside help. There are numerous caregiver support groups that can provide a safe environment for you to discuss your concerns and frustrations with peers who may be experiencing similar challenges. You may also benefit from having a geriatric care manager or a care consultant from a program like Family First whose experienced Care Experts assess your needs to develop a solution that works for everyone.
The Family Caregiver's Newsletter articles are created for Active Daily Living by leading experts in aging and also The Benjamin Rose Institute on Aging, a nationally-recognized leader addressing the most important issues of aging through service, research and advocacy. As a champion for older adults, BRIA works to advance their health, independence and dignity. The organization has established itself as a trusted resource for people who counsel, care for and advocate on behalf of older adults throughout the U.S. See more at http://www.benrose.org