Wouldn't it be nice if all families were like the (fictional) depiction of the 1950s family? Mom and Dad are in love. They have two or more kids who are best friends with one another. Oh, maybe the kids had a squabble now and then, but it was fixed in half an hour.
Well - I hate to break it to you - but I grew up in the ‘50s and it never was quite like that. I've interviewed, advised and consoled many caregivers, and I've encountered exactly one family that seems to fit this glorious model. Frankly, I really don't totally swallow their story. Maybe I'm cynical. Maybe they are in denial. But it's hard to believe that, when a group of people interacts daily, perfection exists.
Dysfunction and family go hand in hand simply because families are a group of different personalities. Dysfunction does not mean lack of love. Many of us grew up in pretty decent families. Some of us grew up in chaos. Some of us grew up in hell. When it comes to adult children facing issues with their aging parents, it goes without saying that it's a lot easier to put the emotion, the time and the energy into caring for parents who did their best to care for you, than parents who abused you.
The need to forgive our parents for being human is a given. Forgiveness can heal many wounds - real or imagined. This must be the first step if we are to care for our parents in their declining years. Most of us can do that, and even take the step to admit we need some forgiveness ourselves.
Some of us can forgive and move forward only if we get professional help. However, some of us simply cannot get over the past enough to give hands on care.
Then, the challenge is to let go of the guilt and do what we can. For those who truly suffered at the hands of their parents and/or those who have such huge sibling issues that there is absolutely no way the siblings can agree on caregiving decisions, the answer may be having an adult guardian appointed to oversee your parents' care.
There are some areas (mine, here on the North Dakota/Minnesota border is one) that have agencies who work with Social Services to provide these guardian services. You can call your county adult social services office and ask what services they offer and if there are any other local organizations that provide guardian services. Possibly your county social services provides that help directly.
The Eldercare Locator at www.eldercare.gov is a terrific resource for finding all kinds of elder care services. They may be able to tell you if your area has adult guardian service agencies. The Eldercare Locator's toll-free phone number is 800-677-1116.
What I want to leave you with is an awareness that the idea of the smoothly running, totally happy family is pretty much a myth. Most families get along fairly well, but issues between siblings that have been dormant for decades can resurface during parent care. Issues from being an abused child may make it impossible for some people to be good caregivers to their aging parents.
When this is the case, the adult child can still do the responsible thing and make sure the parent gets help. They just do it in a hands-off way.
Published On: April 26, 2007