Advice from an Experienced Family Caregiver

by Janet Simpson Benvenuti

Recently, I spoke with Elizabeth Barge, Norfolk, VA, to glean her insights about caring for aging parents. Elizabeth has spent the last five years supporting the needs of five elders – her parents, step-father and in-laws – in a family of nine siblings in a blended family of adults, a situation that would overwhelm most of us.

Here are her five insights.

First, focus on doing THE NEXT RIGHT THING. This will keep you from being overwhelmed; doing the next right thing will always result in forward progress.

Second, start laying the foundation BEFORE you have to act on it. For example, she called and asked the director of the assisted living facility where her parents were living if she needed to start looking for Memory Care. The director answered an emphatic YES, so she started looking for Memory Care centers close to her home in May. When her parents needed to move from the assisted living facility in September, she was ready.

Third, be conciliatory toward siblings and step-siblings. Sometimes they just want to know someone heard and maybe considered their point of view.

Fourth, accept that you can only work with what you have, therefore NO GUILT. If parents are too private about their affairs and not willing to allow adult children in as confidants, then when the mind goes, said adult children can only do the best they can with the information they DO have. When you do the best you can with what you have, there is NO GUILT.

Finally, the opinion of the guy/gal who does the hands on care for parents gets the MOST weight. Period. In her case, the other eight siblings and the spouses accepted that and thanked her at her step-father’s funeral for taking such good care of him. “In baseball vernacular,” she said, “I was the closer.”

Elizabeth is what I often call the ‘designated child’, the one who does most of the hands-on care for parents. If you’re that adult child in your family, remember that you’re not alone. I hope that you find Elizabeth’s words of wisdom helpful, that you focus on the next thing, without guilt, and that, in the end, your relationships with your family, spouses, partners and siblings deepen knowing that you did the best you could.

Thank you, Elizabeth, for sharing your insights with us.

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