How Caregiving Takes a Toll on Family Relationships

By Rachelle Ehlert

Caring for an aging parent comes with its own unique set of challenges. However, one challenge that is often overlooked is the impact family caregiving can have on your relationships. Not only will your dynamic with your parent shift, but also your relationships with your siblings, spouse, and kids.  

Discover how relationships inside and outside of your own household can be affected by family caregiving and learn tips on how to best cope with changes. 

Parent–Child Dynamic 

When caring for an elderly parent, you will experience a parent-child role reversal. You might feel like you are now the one “in charge” and responsible for your parent’s wellbeing — just as they were responsible for your wellbeing when you were a child. 

As you adjust to this new dynamic, you might notice tension in your relationship. Your parent may struggle to give up their independence and allow you to make decisions for them. It can be difficult for you to find the right balance between respecting your mom’s wishes while also making sure she stays safe.

Additionally, it may feel awkward for you or your parent as you help them with more intimate tasks, like bathing and showering. Your parent may feel embarrassed or ashamed to accept your help.  

Additionally, as a caregiver, you will be more focused on your parent’s temporal needs — Did they get enough to eat? What time is dad’s doctor’s appointment? What do you need to pick up at the grocery store? As you focus on your responsibilities, it can be easy to lose your personal relationship with your parent.  

Tips to Maintain a Relationship with Your Aging Parent 

To keep a strong and loving parent-child relationship, try implementing these tips: 

  • Maintain open communication 
  • Be patient with yourself and your parent 
  • Respect your parent’s wishes as best you can
  • Take a break from caregiving when you need to recharge 
  • Keep your parent involved as much as possible 

RELATED CONTENT: Parenting the Parent — Adapting to Your New Role

Sibling Relationships 

While you are the primary caregiver, your siblings may want to be involved in your parent’s care as well. As you all work toward the best outcome for your parent, know that you and your siblings will be in a heightened emotional state because it’s difficult to accept that a parent’s health is declining.  

Siblings may feel like they need to compete to become the most dedicated. You each might have a different idea of what is “best” for your aging parent. Your siblings might blame you as the primary caregiver for not doing enough or say that they could do a better job. Other siblings might feel guilty that they can’t do more due to their existing responsibilities or because they live far away. These high emotions can put a lot of strain on relationships with your siblings.  

Your siblings might also view you as “bossy” for taking the lead on your parent’s care plan, putting additional strain on your relationships. However, you can all work through these emotions and feelings to provide the best care possible for your parent.  

Tips to Maintain a Relationship with Siblings 

To help ease emotions and maintain a strong family relationship with your siblings, here are some tips: 

  • Openly communicate the plan for your parent’s care 
  • Keep your siblings updated about changes in your parent’s health 
  • Carefully consider each sibling’s role and responsibilities 
  • Share your needs and ask for help when you need it 
  • Accept input from your siblings 
  • Avoid getting defensive 

RELATED CONTENT: Organizing a Family Caregiving Calendar

Relationships with Spouse & Kids 

As you spend more time caring for your aging parent, your relationship with your immediate family members may show signs of stress as well. You may feel like you are being torn in two different directions — your parents need you, and your own family needs you.  

It can be challenging for kids to understand the important role you are playing by taking care of grandma or grandpa. They may feel like they are less loved by you or that you don’t care as much about them. And it can be difficult for you to sacrifice being with your kids and potentially missing important milestones.  

As you focus on your parent, your partner might also feel forgotten. They may have to pick up additional responsibilities at home. You might spend additional funds to care for your parent, potentially putting financial strain on your family. And when and your partner get quality time together, you might be distracted by thinking about your parents.  

Tips to Maintain Relationships with your Spouse & Kids 

Here are some tips to help you keep a healthy relationship with your spouse and kids while caring for an aging parent: 

  • Set aside time specifically for your spouse and kids 
  • Maintain open communication 
  • Be present when you are together 
  • Involve your kids and partner in caregiving when you can 
  • Find a caregiver support group to help you process your feelings so they don't spill over into your family relationships

RELATED CONTENT: Managing Responsibilities in the Sandwich Generation

If caregiving is taking a toll on your family relationships, it might be time for a break. Our caregivers can step in so that you can focus on your loved ones’ emotional needs and strengthening your bond with them. We can take care of the housework, meals, and errands for you. Reach out to a local Caring Senior Service office to learn more. 

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Tags: Caregivers, Family