Family Dynamics – Working towards harmony when the stress level is high

By: Tiffany Cloud-Mann, M.Ed.

Family Dynamics – Working towards harmony when the stress level is high

I worked at the Alzheimer’s Association for almost 8 years and consulted with lots families during that time. Many of the caregivers I interacted with were in some type of crisis with their loved one and were reaching out for education, resources and support. One topic that came up throughout those years, that I didn’t always feel equipped to handle, was family dynamics. The Alzheimer’s Association had great tools to provide on how to deal with symptoms of the dementia and caregiver stress, but because all families are so different, there wasn’t a sure solution to suggest when conflict was present.

I believe God made each of us to have our own unique personalities to contribute just what is needed to the families we are put in. I remind my nine-year-old of this a lot, that God gave you your little brother specifically to be his big brother. You are meant to have each other, so get along. It doesn’t always work that way or come as easy as I think it should, I get it. In families with more than one person calling the shots or wanting at part in decision-making, it can be tough. Years of relationships, crisis and hard feelings don’t just go away because there is someone that needs our care. As well, there are sometimes such established roles in families, that we each only get to play the part we have played our whole lives. Caregiving is not a role one person can’t handle a lone. We need caregiver teams of family and friends that can contribute to care needed along the journey and sometimes we need help learning how to work with each other again.

Tips for working together and pushing past family dynamics

I will provide some tips below that may help in working harmoniously in your caregiving group. But, I don’t dismiss the fact that it can very difficult and hurtful at times to experience family dynamics in the caregiving process. I think both individual and group counseling can be a great resource for this. One of the first pieces of education I learned about on the family dynamic topic  was from Home Instead Senior Care’s education on the 50/50 rule, that provides tools on helping family caregiver share the responsibility as equally as possible in caregiving for a loved one. There are some basic tips mentioned in this literature that can help set the stage for a good family caregiver working relationship. I will mention a snippet from the resource below.

  1. Talk and listen before you are in the throes of caregiving.
  2. Research options that will be resources for a loved one when they are needed.
  3. Plan and know who will do what when the time comes.
  4. Be flexible as your siblings’ lives change and with what their interests and skills are as you divide tasks.
  5. Be honest, that means everyone has the right to say if they are feeling overwhelmed and should check in regularly with the primary caregiver to see how it’s going.

The 50/50 rule educates that there are some hot topics that can add fuel to the fire. Those topics could be money, family inheritance and mementos, a communication breakdown, long distance caregiving, one caregiver feeling all the pressure or others trying to take control and caregiver stress. For some of you, you may feel like it’s too late in your family’s caregiving journey to put these tips in place or communicate about the hot topics. What I would say to you is, maybe not. Maybe everyone needs to hear, “let’s agree to disagree,” because it  can move us past a stuck place. Maybe you introduce this blog to your co-caregivers and say, “ Hey, I know we haven’t done the best with these tips mentioned or discussed the hot topics, but maybe we can have an open conversation about what we can do better.” I think much of this takes courage and open, ongoing communication.



A Care Manager’s role in your family

Over the years I have gotten more comfortable with family dynamics. Much of a Care Manager’s role when working with a family of multiple caregivers is to be the mediator in times of conflict, the nonbiased view point and the expert. So, my final tip is to call us or some other mediator you trust when you need help clearing the fog, focusing on a plan and moving forward. LifeLinks can sit down with everyone who loves the person receiving care to push through the things that may be getting your family stuck. LifeLinks also offers counseling. We were all put in our families for one reason or another, and caregiving is a time that everyone is needed to show up and grow up. Let’s get along.

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