How Does Caregiving Affect Family Relationships?
The Caring Generation® – Episode 167 May 17, 2023. How does caregiving affect family relationships? Becoming a caregiver can upend life. Learn why setting expectations and having heart-to-heart conversations are essential from caregiving expert Pamela D Wilson.
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How does caregiving affect family relationships? Becoming a caregiver can upend life. So if you are an adult caring for aging loved ones, a married couple caring for aging parents, or a spouse caring for a spouse, learn how care responsibilities change through the years.
How Caregiving Affects Husbands and Wives Caring for Each Other or Aging Parents
Watch More Videos About Caregiving and Aging on Pamela’s YouTube Channel
Let’s look at three scenarios to gain insights into ways caregiving affects family relationships. What happens when:
1 The help provided moves past the early stages when a husband or wife, adult child, or grandchild helps out a little bit here and there—and they don’t recognize their participation as caregiving until someone in a healthcare profession calls them a caregiver.
2 Adult children who experienced childhood trauma like a verbally abusive parent, witnessed domestic violence, grew up in a family with mental health or substance use disorders, or a parent who was incarcerated and later released—is expected by the abusing parent to provide care?
3 Caregivers are expected to take on complicated hands-on or interpersonal care tasks, commit more time, and trade priorities to care for another person.
Being a Caregiver is Not Easy
Being a caregiver is not easy. The impact of care responsibilities is difficult to predict, which is why until one becomes a caregiver, there is a lack of understanding of what caring for another person means and the effects of doing more and more and more.
People who are not caregivers find all these situations challenging to comprehend and can judge caregivers who express frustration or exhaustion.
One or all three of these situations can result in caregiver emotional stress or trauma that challenges family relationships. Especially if the individuals involved, the caregiver and care receiver, have difficulty initiating and carrying through difficult conversations.
How does caregiving affect family relationships specific to marital vows, duty, and responsibility?
What causes relationships to change? If you have lost contact with a friend or a distant family member, you may have noticed one or more of these events occur:
• A change of interests
• Available time to maintain the relationship
• Distance specific to opportunities for in-person contact
• Available money to support shared activities
• Role shifts from dating to marriage to having children to being an empty nester to retiring, building or managing a career, experiencing changes in health, becoming the victim of a crime, or any other life circumstance
People and Relationships Change Throughout Life
The aspect not often considered is how individuals themselves change. How are you different from the 10-, 20- or 30-year-old you?
What experiences came into your life that changed your perspective or knowledge? Did you move away from your birth city? What type of work did you pursue?
Individual life experiences and friend and family relationships affect a person’s identity. How have your parents’ lives changed during your lifetime—their work, health, and hobbies? Many variables affect family relationships. Prioritizing where one places attention, dreams, hopes, and expectations can change from year to year.
How many of you have lost friendships due to a lack of communication or being too emotionally immature to deal with a situation that seemed impossible then? We cannot turn back the clock.
Relationships, including friend, family, and caregiving relationships, end for many reasons—health changes in the blink of an eye. A heart attack or a hip fracture results in an adult child or grandchild helping out, becoming a full-time caregiver overnight.
All of a sudden, doctors and nurses are calling you the family caregiver. You find yourself in a constant whirlwind of constant activity.
Caregiving is a Time-Consuming Activity
For new caregivers trying to do it all, being too busy is a factor often ignored until the caregiver finds themselves isolated and lonely. The daily, weekly, and monthly time committed to caring for a spouse, aging parent, grandparent, or another individual can become all-consuming.
Friendships and marriages that are relationships of choice can suffer from a lack of attention. Some caregivers feel like they have to choose between a spouse and caring for an aging parent. We are born into our families and the expectations of culture.
Young children need the support of parents who created their lives. But does this mean that this parental choice and responsibility to have children then transfers to the child’s responsibility later in life to become a caregiver for parents?
Are birth and death about “trading time to care for and be cared for?” There is no right or wrong answer.
Where do individual duty and responsibility enter the picture for becoming as self-sufficient as possible so that care isn’t needed or expected from a family member?
Some adult children have seen their parents care for their grandparents. As a result, they do not want to be temporary or permanent caregivers. They focus on self-independence and believe that parents who need care must do their best— on their own. Equally, some parents don’t want to burden their children with care needs.
Caregiving and Marriage
Let’s examine how caregiving affects family relationships by combining marriage and caregiving.
If you are married, do your partner, and you share common interests or activities?
For example, if you prioritize health by eating healthy and exercising, is this a shared interest by your spouse? Let’s use an example of a spouse diagnosed with type 1 diabetes who must be attentive to diet and exercise.
If these are new habits, should the caregiver’s spouse follow the same recommendations to be supportive? For example, will counting carbs, fiber, or protein in food feel like a restrictive activity? What would you do if a friend was in a similar situation?
While opposites attract, differences in approaches and beliefs about career, financial management, stress management, and self-care can create massive gaps that widen when caregiving affects marital relationships.
Regarding spousal or marital caregiving, there are two types, a spouse or partner caring for a spouse or partner and then a married adult child caring for an aging parent. I know many spouses who feel abandoned by their husband or wife who spends their free time caring for an aging parent.
If you are a spousal caregiver or a married adult child giving all your free time to mom or dad, how have the interests you shared with your spouse or partner changed?
If priorities have changed, are the new priorities equally important—or are there competing interests, like one person in a married couple caring for an aging parent and the other spouse feeling left out of the relationship?
Can habits be changed for the benefit of the marriage and the family? How does a neglected spouse get the attention of a husband and a wife who spends all their time at the house of an aging parent?
This can be a challenge if the caregiver spouse feels a strong pull to do whatever it takes to make an aging parent happy at the expense of a marriage. Marriages fall apart due to prioritizing care for an aging parent over a husband or wife.
Preparing for the Complex Realities of Caregiving
If a spousal caregiver, is there a realization or discussion of what happens if one spouse becomes sick or dies before the other? What plan exists for the surviving spouse?
Or what happens to the marriage of adult children when the second set of aging parents needs care? Who shows up?
What if an adult child caregiver dies before the parent they care for? As a couple, how have you prepared for the complex realities of caregiving that can repeat across relationships?
Most spouses are close in age; however, there are always exceptions. What is the impact upon marriage when one spouse retires before the other who continues to work?
A spouse having free time may miss the routine of a job and start spending money on personal interests and having a lot of fun. As a result, the spouse who still works may become resentful.
On the other hand, a spouse who becomes disabled or must retire due to health concerns may become a financial drain on the family budget and the ability of the working spouse to pay the bills. Daily life stress and struggles impact health and well-being.
If you are single or never married, what is your plan to receive care when you are older? A caregiver said to me the other day, “I cared for my mother. Now I’m caring for her friend, who will care for me when I am older.”
Health Conditions Can Spiral Out of Control
If you are a caregiver, you know that a loved one diagnosed with one chronic disease, like high blood pressure, can also be diagnosed with diabetes, kidney, and other issues. Healthcare conditions can quickly spiral out of control.
Health problems, physical or mental, impact the ability to earn an income, hold down a job, physically move about, perform routine life activities, and have the social skills to get along with others. As the caregiver, how are you adjusting your life as a result of caregiving responsibilities?
Are you creating balance so that you continue participating in activities you enjoy but solo? If you are married, do you have shared and separate friends?
Stressful situations like needing care or becoming a caregiver place a high level of stress on family relationships, especially if there is an expectation that one individual will provide all the care. In contrast, siblings and others go forward with their lives.
Even still, there is a bright side to being a family caregiver. Caring for another person can result in learned skills—there are many skills to learn if you are a caregiver.
Prepare for the Caregiver Journey
So if you are at the point where you are just helping out, consider making time for my online program, Caring for Aging Parents. Request to join my online caregiving group called The Caregiving Trap on Facebook. While every care situation is different, it’s likely that there will be someone in the group who can share a similar experience.
When we think of caregiving, we may think of this job as caring for an elderly family member. But, let’s take a step back.
We are exposed to caregiving in childhood. Parents are caregivers for their children, who are the care receivers.
Now, the situation for caring for children is a little different than caring for an older parent whose health is probably in decline. Overall they’re not getting any younger or more active.
Young children are constantly growing, walking, talking running. So much energy you can barely keep up with them. Aging parents, walking, stumbling, falling, and sometimes tired all the time. So it’s a very different experience.
But the common aspect is the quality of the relationship. In a perfect world, there is no abuse or adverse childhood events. Parents are healthy, working, loving people.
How Abusive Relationships Affect Caregiving
But this isn’t always reality. Parents can be verbally abusive at all ages. Children can witness domestic violence.
Parents may have unexplained mental health or substance use disorders. Some families have a parent who was incarcerated and later released. These are all very traumatic experiences that children do not forget, and they affect relationships and interactions for the rest of these children’s lives.
So if you are a married couple with an aging parent who suffered from one or more of these adverse childhood events, how inclined are you to want to be the caregiver for your parent?
You may not want to have anything to do with mom or dad. Or on the other hand, you may not like your parent but feel that you have a duty and a responsibility to do the work no matter how hard it is.
But, have you considered the effect on your spouse or partner or your children if you move this parent into your home? Or if your family members have to spend time with this parent. These are difficult situations.
The wildcard is a diagnosis of dementia, Alzheimer’s, a brain injury, or any type of cognitive impairment because these conditions can significantly change a parent’s personality. Your sweet, sweet mother may act like Linda Blair in The Exorcist.
You have absolutely no idea who this person is between three to seven o’clock when mom or dad is sundowning. Then all of a sudden, the next morning, Mom is calling you dear and sweetie and offering all sorts of compliments.
These changes are difficult to imagine, comprehend, and even remain calm in the midst of chaos.
Caregiving and the impact of health problems affect family relationships significantly.
Caregivers Start Out Healthy and Then . . .
Many caregivers start out healthy and then, due to stress, suffer one health catastrophe after another. For example, a caregiver told me a few weeks ago that he was stressed out and experiencing vertigo.
If you’ve never experienced vertigo, think back to a time when you had too much to drink and the room was spinning. With vertigo, the world spins and sometimes doesn’t stop for hours.
I suggested to this caregiver that the episode of vertigo might be that little tap on the shoulder, that wake-up call that it’s time to start paying attention to health needs before vertigo turns into a heart attack or a stroke that is then a major problem.
The funny thing about health, and I should not say funny because it’s not. But it can and does change overnight or even hour to hour.
If you haven’t experienced this, you probably won’t believe me until it happens to you or the person you care for. It’s crazy.
Aging Loved Ones Seem Fine, and Then . . .
Here’s an example from my days as a care manager and a guardian for older adults. I was the guardian of this sweet gentleman. We will call him Christopher. Christopher lived in a personal care home, a small assisted living house with four or five residents and full-time caregivers. I visited one afternoon and was fine. Walking, talking, laughing attentive. FINE.
The next morning my assistant received a call from the caregiver at the personal care home who requested a wheelchair for Christopher. And my thought was, how could this be? I was there yesterday he was fine.
So I had my assistant call back and make a few requests. Take his blood pressure, take his temperature, take his pulse oxygen reading, did he sleep all night, did he get up and go to the bathroom, was he dehydrated.
And, come to find his temperature was up, blood pressure down, and pulse oxygen low. Christopher didn’t need a wheelchair because he was physically weak. He needed an ambulance.
I credit the caregiver at the house for making the phone call to report what she thought was the problem. Another hour, Christopher would probably have been dead.
Then the other side of the story. A disagreement with the intensive care doctor, who did not want to give Christopher antibiotics. The doc had the nerve to tell me Christopher was old, lived a good life, and I should let him die. He probably wanted the intensive care bed for a younger person.
I disagreed with the doctor because I knew better, and I had the legal authority to make the decision. Christopher received antibiotics, recovered quickly, and lived another few years.
Caregiving is Like Riding an Up and Down Rollercoaster
Caregivers, this is how stuff happens. One day, Mom and Dad are fine, and the next moment, you’re dealing with an out-of-control, knock-down, drag-out, up-and-down roller coaster crisis.
So it would be best if you took care of your health and well-being, or you won’t make it. Some caregivers have told me that they hope they don’t want up the next morning.
Caregiver suicide is a real problem. Never ignore a caregiver who seems depressed or who has had a behavior change.
I have had many caregivers find a video on my YouTube Channel – look for me at @ PamelaDWilsonCaregivingExpert. There are literally hundreds of videos on the channel answering questions that caregivers ask.
Many caregivers considering suicide have told me they found one of my videos and that I gave them hope. I do my best to tell a straight story with a little bit of humor.
Aging Parent and Child Relationships
Let’s transition back to how does caregiving affect family relationships with aging parents who abused their children and now expect these children to give them time, love, and attention?
Children willingly sign up for the task. The problem is that this only continues the cycle of abuse.
Some adult children feel obligated to be the caregiver. The aging parent continues the abusive behavior or unhelpful habits and drains the life out of the caregiver.
The results are damaged self-esteem, feeling like they can’t live their own life, and being at a parent’s beck and call. These can become co-dependent situations that are hard to imagine. The adult child may move in with a parent and become financially dependent.
These can be dead-end situations because caregivers can’t work or do anything for themselves because care responsibilities are 24/7. I know few caregivers who have the confidence and willpower to walk away and say, “You know what, it’s time for you to make your own care arrangements, go to a care community or a nursing home. I’m done. “
I know spouses who are in similar situations with abusive spouses. Patterns from earlier in life are hard to break if you’ve never gained total independence from a parent or an abusive spouse.
So if you are an adult child caregiver and have children in your home who are exposed to mean grandma or grandpa, think twice about how these relationships will affect your children.
If you were subjected to abuse as a child, how did that relationship impact you?
Why pass this down to the next generation? It’s okay to say, “I’m not up for this. I will help you find care but will not be the caregiver. I will not put myself in this position and will not do it to my spouse or children.”
It is also okay to be a spouse who says, “I can’t deal with your mom or dad. I will support you, but I’m not spending time with them. “ And if you are in an abusive marital situation, it’s okay to leave to protect yourself.
Boundary setting is important to manage how caregiving interactions affect family relationships.
Caregivers tell me that they don’t know the person they’ve become. They never used to be impatient, intolerant, short-tempered, or mean.
Caregiving stress impacts behaviors for the better and the worse. So before you allow a caregiving relationship or responsibilities to affect your health, well-being, and relationships with a spouse, children, or others in your life, seek help. Create the life you want.
Join an online caregiver support group like my group, The Caregiving Trap, on Facebook. Take my online caregiver course, Caring for Aging Parents, so you know what you’re getting yourself into. Watch a few hundred videos on my YouTube channel. Listen to over 160 podcasts of The Caring Generation.
Don’t want until the point of no return. Do something for you today so that you can manage how caregiving affects family relationships.
Looking For Help Caring for Elderly Parents? Find the Information, Including Step-by-Step Processes, in Pamela’s Online Program.
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