Imperfect Family Caregiving Relationships


By Pamela D Wilson MS, BS/BA, CSA, NCG

family relationships and conflictImperfect family caregiving relationships are the result of imperfect relationships between aging parents and adult children or spouses. When families come together in caregiving situations, at family or holiday reunion, or when family members interact in the general course of life, there are often past relationship glitches or hurts that remain an underlying current. 

The words “get over it” may be heard when discussions of actions that parents committed years ago come into conversation or when adult children discuss how relationships with brothers or sisters are imperfect.  The reality is that family relationships are often imperfect and this fact is brought into clear focus when caregiving becomes a family responsibility.

Imperfect family caregiving relationships result when there is a sense of inequality. When one person contributes more effort, time, or money than another. Elderly parents or spouses may not always be appreciative of the efforts of family caregivers.

In the book, The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes® family relationships are discussed as well as the importance of discussions involving beneficial and necessary conversations of care.

Many times deep introspection is required to improve family relationships.  Family counseling and support groups may be beneficial toward working through challenging relationships. Resolving imperfect family caregiving relationships takes work on the part of all persons involved. 

Many times moving forward requires changing the way caregivers and aging parents think about a situation rather than hoping that others will change their actions or behaviors.  Sometimes letting go of controlling the outcome of a situation or controlling the way others—especially family members— think, respond or act is the way to move forward.

Judith Sills, Ph.D.,  in her article, “Let it Go,” provides six tips to move forward and to move past poor choices and imperfect relationships. These include: letting go of the past, discarding memorabilia, making amends, changing the story you tell yourself, forgive, and learn to be present.  While these tips may not be easy to implement, these concepts are valuable if one wishes to move forward.

How many have family or friends who constantly complain but never take action? The phone rings and we dread listening to complaints. Imperfect family caregiving relationships benefit from learning how to set boundaries. 

Empathetic caregivers may feel guilty about being unable to be more supportive. Rather than being held captive by a complainer you might say, “I have three minutes to listen,” and then, “I hear your concerns. Have you thought about what changes you’d like to make?” This statement allows the listener to put a time frame on participation in negative talk and to escape a repeated situation that may permanently damage a relationship.

In moving forward, there is also the aspect of forgiveness. Many individuals hold onto hurts for a lifetime and are angry that the other person in the relationship was not so similarly harmed or derailed.  Forgiveness is a gift we give to ourselves in that in deciding that we’ve been holding onto an issue for too long and we realize that continuing to be angry no longer serves us. 

Mistakes and injustice happen; life is not fair. It is up to us to decide when we’ve been hanging onto a hurt for too long and to move ahead with our life. We regain our self-esteem when we decide not to remain a victim or to continue to be a participant in an imperfect situation.

1.  Sills, Judith Ph.D., “Let it Go,” Psychology Today, November/December 2014. p, 55-59.

©2014, 2021  Pamela D. Wilson, All Rights Reserved. All Articles by Pamela D. Wilson


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