For the most part the old saying “You can choose your friends but you can’t choose your family”, is true. Being a part of a family brings with it all sorts of dynamics both good and bad. These dynamics are formed by way of years of tradition and practice.
For example as the youngest sibling (as well as cousin), I am viewed as eternally 12 years old in the eyes of my aunts, uncles, cousins and so on. The fact that I am an author and national speaker on caregiving and aging issues with 20 years of experience, bears little weight when trying to assist certain members in my family.
My family is made up of mostly loud-talking, listening-challenged, wildly hand gesturing Italians. In the Italian family there is a certain unspoken hierarchy. For example, though I am considered an expert in my field by many, some of my family members will look to my sister first when it comes to their care. Not that my sister isn’t competent, she remarkably well educated and resourceful, a real dynamo (must be a family trait), however; her education and background though impressive, is not in the field of caregiving and aging yet she tends to be the first point of contact for some.
Being deemed eternally 12 years old, use to frustrate the snot out of me. However; I quickly realized that this attitude got me nowhere. So, instead of trying to change a social order that has been cultivated through hundreds of years of Italian heritage, I decided to change how I was acting and re-acting in situations in order to ultimately help the person who needed care.
Because of this personal adjustment, my sister and I have tag-teamed care interventions with family members on issues ranging from moving someone into hospice care to interventions for a loved one needing medication adjustments. Though, I’ll admit that it’s still challenging at times for me to sit second-chair, my main objective is to help the person we love.
In my years of working with families in the midst of caregiving chaos, I’ve seen how the pressure of the situation tends to stir up feelings of resentment, bitterness and frustration towards either the person being cared for or towards other family members.
Now, I realize that my personal examples can seem rather insignificant for someone who has taken on the task of caring for an alcoholic parent which created a less than blissful childhood for the caregiver and eventually to their parents’ current health crisis. Or for the designated caregiver who has resentment towards her siblings who are not assisting with the care of their parent. These examples and hundreds more, can obviously cause great turmoil for the person who has taken on the role as caregiver.
However; there are some simple (and not so simple) tips that can help to lessen the turmoil and enhance relationships with those around us:
- It is very important that you realize that caring for someone you love is a choice. Many people have said to me, “Sue I had no choice, no one else would do it”, if you analyze that comment you realize there obviously was a choice as the other family members chose not to be the caregiver. There is always a choice, doesn’t make it right or wrong, it a choice. There are always other options, however; whether it was out of guilt, a sense of duty or because you were raised to always take on the care needs of others, you chose it.
- Keep in mind that other family members are not the enemy; they are people who you love (even if you don’t always like them), and have their own personal stress and issues going on.
- You can complain all you want about your family, build a huge network of supportive friends, but at the end of the day they are still your family. Unlike the mobile phone company there is no upgrade or trade-in plan. Your family are who they are and instead of fighting against them and wishing for something else, try making a conscious choice to love them for who they are, faults and all.
- Forgive them! They aren’t like you; that is why you’re the caregiver and they aren’t. Anger and bitterness only hurt us, not the other person. Let it go.
Make the choice today to accept your family members just as they are and contemplate modifying how you interact with them. Instead of seeing them as a burden (as families can be very taxing at times), see them for what they also are, one of the greatest blessings in our life, just because they are ours.