Not all seniors are alike, and neither are all family caregivers. Depending upon your personality type, you may be more hands-on or more hands-off, more take-charge or more laid-back, more practical or more emotional. You can’t change your personality, but you can make your personality work for you by forming a caregiving team to support your aging parent.
Know Your Strengths
As you and other family members determine your caregiving role, it’s important to assess what each of you are good at doing with the goal that your collect skills and personality types will complement one another.
“Every person has strengths,” says Pamela Wilson, MS, BS/BA, CG, CSA, a leading expert in the caregiving industry and author of The Caregiving Trap: Solutions for Life’s Unexpected Changes®. “You just have to figure out what those are and, within the context of what your parents need, what you are able to do for them.”
As an example, Wilson describes how her own family assumed various caregiving roles when her parents needed care in their older years. At the time, there were five adult children, each with their own unique skills and personalities.
“Two of the children were very handy,” Wilson recalls. “My brother would come home once a year and fix everything that needed fixing around the house. My sister also would be involved in those sorts of things.”
Another sister, who was a nurse, took on the responsibility of their parents’ doctor’s appointments and medical consultations. Another brother, who was a priest, had the primary responsibility for their parents’ spiritual matters.
“I was the practical organizational one,” Wilson reports. “I did their income taxes, took my mom shopping—anything that required organization. Eventually, I became the executor of their estate.”
For Wilson’s family, the range of required caregiving responsibilities matched up perfectly with everyone’s ability to provide them. Some adult children may feel they don’t have the temperament to be a caregiver for their parents. But if they think of the full scope of their parents’ needs, they should be able to contribute in some way.
Building a Team
A Place for Mom addressed the issue of family caregiving roles in a recent blog post, pointing out that that word “caregiver” means different things to different people. Some are able to embrace the role, while others find it overwhelming and fatiguing. Family members benefit by sharing the responsibilities of caring. Caregiving doesn’t have to fall strictly on the adult children. It can encompass a larger circle that also includes grandchildren, spouses, siblings, and friends.
When you have a circle or team of people providing care, it’s important to value the indirect caregiving assistance (such as shopping or filling out paperwork) as much as the hands-on caregiving itself.
“Some people admittedly are not caregivers,” Wilson acknowledges. “So, for those people, perhaps they’re in a position to contribute financially.”
Or perhaps they can contribute by going online to research various senior living or in-home care options. If their parent needs to sell their home, perhaps they can interview real estate agents.
“Every adult child or every family member can do something,” Wilson says. “You have to figure out what it is that is, and build a team to provide support.”
Emotion Vs. Practicality
Some adult children become emotional when helping their parents with eldercare transitions. For instance, they may find it difficult to talk to their mom or dad about why it’s no longer advisable for them to live alone.
“We have seen families where one child can talk to the parents about anything, and the others are more like, ‘I can’t have this conversation with them. It’s not going to come out well,” Wilson acknowledges.
In those cases, it is preferable to let another sibling—someone who is better at keeping emotions in check—handle those talks with Mom or Dad.
Being emotional has its advantages in interactions with your parents. You want your parents to know that you care. For instance, showing sadness on the day they move out of their home is perfectly appropriate. Your parents will appreciate your acknowledgement of how difficult such a move can be. Offering a comforting word, a smile, a hug, and even a tear—all of these empathetic gestures are an important part of caregiving.
Calling in a Third Party
In some cases, emotions can be detrimental to effective decision-making. When adult children disagree and become angry or defensive, it may be time to call in an outside party to offer advice and mediation.
Wilson is available to mediate family discussions and provide caregiver support through her two businesses, The Care Navigator and The Caring Generation. In that role, she has seen various family dynamics come into play.
“I have had meetings with multiple children, and some of the children dig in their heels and say, ‘We can’t possibly move Mom or Dad into a nursing home.’ Another child might say, ‘I don’t want to talk about it. I can’t even think about it.’ Our role is to facilitate family meetings, where we’re able to tell them, ‘Okay. Here are three options. What can we get everybody to agree to? The options may not be perfect, but something has to be done, so let’s have a discussion and see where we can come to a consensus.’”
Having an outside person lead these discussions is often preferable because it keeps one or two siblings from dominating the conversation and allows everyone to be heard.
“It’s often difficult for adult children to handle these discussions on their own,” Wilson affirms. “In many cases, you have one of the children take over the discussion and then you’ll have the complaint from the siblings that ‘Joe always gets his way.’ When you have an outside person lead the discussion, it’s more balanced and everyone has the opportunity to talk. Not one child takes control of the conversation. It’s becomes almost like a business meeting or mediation.”
CHIME IN: What aspects of family caregiving are best suited to your personality type?