In an opinion piece in The New York Times, Cathy Guisewite, the creator of the comic strip “Cathy,” talks about how her 90-year-old mother still needs to see herself as the caregiver in their relationship. The two of them are locked in a ceaseless battle over “which one needs the care and which one should be doing the giving.”
Perhaps you’ve had a similar experience. After all, changes in health can precipitate significant changes in family relationships. These changes are often difficult to navigate. It shouldn’t be surprising then when parents are reluctant to surrender the role of caregiver to someone they’ve looked after for a big portion of their lives. They may see it as giving up an important piece of their identity.
In a PsychCentral article entitled Caregiving is a Two-Way Relationship, psychologist Marie Hartwell-Parker points out that “taking care of an elder is really about the elder and helper taking care of each other through what can be a very difficult time. Those relationships that thrive are the ones in which people understand that there has to be a cordial give-and-take.” She goes on to further explain what makes this complicated and provides practical tips for elders and caregivers related to communication, identifying needs, and privacy. Although her article focuses on older adults who need help, some of her advice applies to looking after other people in your life as well.
I asked four experienced family caregivers what sorts of relationship changes they had to navigate and what they learned from their experiences. Some looked after parents, but others looked after spouses. Their comments, along with those of a professional care coordinator, are captured in a series of short caregiving videos on our site.
Managing changes in family relationships isn’t always easy to do on your own. If you’re looking for support, check out “Support for Caregivers” in our Find Services feature. You’ll find programs throughout Ontario that offer assistance in the form of counselling or support groups.
Can you help?
From time to time, we receive questions from our readers. Here’s one we got last week which we’ve posted on our Family Caregiving Forum. If you’re able to offer advice, please pop over to the forum and make a comment. (It takes just a few seconds to register as a forum user.)
My mother has dementia. She’s got a broken tooth. What’s the best thing to do or place to go? (She’s not swallowing well and not opening her mouth at certain times, but she actually likes the dentist when she gets the gist of it.)