We all see the world from different perspectives. We all have different aspirations or goals in life towards family, career, or seeking adventure. Even in all these differences, we still need one area to work towards bringing our goals to fruition: building relationships. Some are easy to build due to the newness led by curiosity, while others are far more difficult to maintain.
The difference in maintaining relationships while caring for aging parents comes from different motivational factors. When we go beyond trying to be the favorite child, even as adults, and get into the work involved, our motivation may shift, causing relationships to become causalities of war. Our focus of "we" may become "I," which introduces the powerful "I" in a team that throws the best-created care plans out of balance.
Today, I invited Leslie McLeod, a writer, artist, mom, and co-owner of a technology company, to come on the show to share with me her first-hand experiences of building relationships. Out of caring for her parents from challenging experiences with her siblings came a passion for writing a book to help others build relationships while caring for their aging parents. Relationship damage happens to the best of us, but there are ways we can learn to navigate the pitfalls to prevent the damage or loss of lifelong relationships.
Before I became a full-time caregiver for Mom, I was highly motivated to build a career in accounting. As I completed each degree and then began studies for my CPA license, I followed my mental checklist to what I perceived as a success. Each time I accepted the next job with a higher salary, I felt accomplished and stronger fulfilling my dreams of success. Family time during weekend barbeques or holiday dinners seemed sweeter because I arrived with my ego in tow as a person from the family not expected to grow professionally who surpassed their expectations.
My siblings were supportive yet driven by their own motivations for success in life. We were all motivated to build families of our own. Then as Mom and Dad's marriage hit rocky times and began to crumble, we each stepped in to help where we could but still held some distance. As our parent's relationship fell apart, we leaned on each other even more, clinging to the sense of family. That is until Mom began to show signs of early-onset Dementia. Suddenly, our united front to retain family began to erode after Mom and Dad's marriage ended.
Mom was in denial of her declining health for many years. I was in denial that I could make any difference, so I held tight to pursue my goals of success. Until the time was clear that Mom needed help, all of our help to be the team once again. There was no longer "until death does us part," protecting her with Dad watching over her. My siblings and I had to figure out a balanced routine to share the burden. A shifting balance was created by the burden of care as our motivations shifted. Our relationships were crumbling just as Mom and Dad's relationship crumbled around maintaining Mom's health and well-being.
It took many years for me to let go of my ego or learn how to coexist with my true self and keep my ego in check. You may wonder, what does ego have to do with caring? If that is your thought, then stop to consider how often you might be bickering about care decisions with your siblings.
What type of issues might you be fighting over? Are you fighting because you are right and they are wrong?
Can you see the "I" in the team in your flashbacks?
What is it that you want and do not seem to be receiving as a team?
Relationships fall apart when we cannot see the elephant in the room because the "I want" is larger than life. The life of your loved one is dependent on the love provided through care. When this love is threatened by unresolved past issues or an unwillingness to acknowledge responsibility, the need surfacing from what "I want" grows like a green monster under the bed. My want went from a simple need to share the burden to a growing level of frustration that became the egotistical green monster. I wanted each of my siblings to pull their weight of the burden fairly, but they did not want a fair portion of the burden.
It may sound so simple when it comes to our aging parents, but this isn't easy to balance when dealing with motivational factors different from our own. If you struggle to strike a balance with your siblings and your experiencing relationships falling apart, consider the following pointers below.
1. Accept that caring is a compassionate skill set. Not everyone has learned the skills, even when raised under the same roof.
2. Lay it all out on the table. Ask your siblings what it is they want. They may be trying to fulfill unrealistic expectations and may not want to be involved.
3. Sometimes the truth hurts. Check in with your siblings on where they stand with your parents. This deep check might reveal a troubled past that challenges them from providing care from a compassionate, loving mindset.
4. Do not assume birth order dictates the division of the burden. If your parents have not yet designated a Durable Power of Attorney to manage their estate or MPOA for care, do not make assumptions based on first-born responsibilities. Whether your sibling(s) live in or out of state or down the street, care still must be planned for the best interest of your aging parent.
5. We all have strengths and weaknesses. What is common sense to you or easy for you to handle may be a difficult challenge to your sibling(s). Try to accept the difference and work with it positively. If your sibling is unwilling to improve on what you perceive as a weakness or lighten up on a perceived strength, you must find peace with the limitations. You cannot force an improvement.
6. Consider a mediator or counseling together. Honesty with transparency is the best policy. Be honest with yourself, and then be honest with your sibling(s). In the very end, a relationship could be spared if you allow the "dirty laundry" out in a safe, judgment-free zone in the presence of a therapist. Before you agree to disagree and walk away for good, consider what you're walking away from instead of whom.
Thank you for joining in and listening today. I hope this episode gave you more food for thought. Until next time, BE PROACTIVE. Take care, everybody.
Photo by Keira Burton from Pexels
Intro: Vacation Time by Khris Paradise
Outro: Misty by Khris Paradise