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Published December 14, 2013, 04:55 PM

Minding Our Elders: Distant family criticizes local sister’s caregiving

DEAR CAROL: I live in the same community as my mother, who is nearly 90. She’s in a local nursing home and I visit her several times a week. She has some memory issues and severe arthritis, but she’s quite content.

By: Carol Bradley Bursack, INFORUM

DEAR CAROL: I live in the same community as my mother, who is nearly 90. She’s in a local nursing home and I visit her several times a week. She has some memory issues and severe arthritis, but she’s quite content.

My sister and brother will come from several hundred miles away for Christmas and stay in a motel, though we’ll spend Christmas Day with Mom in the nursing home. Afterward, my siblings will come to my house and begin their yearly campaign to place guilt on me for not taking mom into my home. They’ll go into detail about how I could take better care of Mom even though they won’t offer to help.

I work full time and can’t take care of Mom’s daily physical needs. I’m dreading Christmas. How do I handle this? – Denise

DEAR DENISE: Sadly, your situation is not unusual. Many out-of-town siblings help the in-town caregiver any way that they can. Yet, other families, like yours, don’t.

Your siblings may, in reality, feel guilty for not helping but simply don’t know what to do. Pointing a finger at others is a way some people handle their own uncomfortable feelings. While their criticism is out of place and offensive, perhaps there are some things you can do to help end this yearly nightmare.

I’m assuming that you’re sharing updates about your mom with your siblings and answering their questions if and when they have them. Have you also suggested ways that they can help from a distance, such as calling more often or writing letters? Be specific so that they can accept or reject your suggestions. Stand your ground about the fact that you can’t do more than you are for your mom. If they attack you, state your case firmly but without drama.

If you can avoid being drawn into a fight, you’ll have a better chance at coming out of this with an improved relationship with your siblings. At the very least, you can feel better about yourself because you took the high road even if they didn’t.

Try to understand that no matter how much guilt your siblings attempt to lay on you, you can choose to accept or reject that guilt. In this case, you’ll have to train yourself to reject it if, after you’ve done all you can on your part, they still persist in criticizing you.

You may want to make a regular effort to attend a support group for caregivers, or at least join one online. Religious organizations and social service agencies can help you find a community group, and there are several excellent groups online. In support groups you’ll generally find others with similar issues, and they will help you stay strong.

Your mom is in the best situation possible and doing well. You are taking care of her by seeing her several times a week and handling any problems that come up. Continue to make her life as special as you can while ensuring that she’s cared for and you will have done all that you can reasonably do.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com. She can be reached at carol@mindingourelders.com.

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