When it comes to caring for a loved one, conflicts don't just occur between siblings and/or stepfamily. They can also arise between extended relatives like in-laws, cousins, aunts, uncles, etc. Such conflict may arise from extended family's belief that the primary caregiver is not caring sufficiently for the loved one. Some reasons for this may include the extended relative not being unaware of the intricate details of the caregiver’s role, not believing what the caregiver relays about his/her responsibilities, being in denial about the loved one's condition or the extended relative may simply just find the reality of the situation too difficult to deal with. If any of this sounds familiar, then consider trying the following techniques in order to reduce your level of stress when interacting with your extended family member.
If interacting directly with your family member is unavoidable, consider limiting your interactions by setting boundaries. As the primary caregiver, you more than likely have your hands full and don’t have time to “entertain” relatives who visit or answer their inquiries via phone. Setting a boundary can be done by saying something like, “Caring for mom requires a lot of my time, focus and energy. While I appreciate your visits and calls, it does throw off our schedule a bit. For the time being, if you wouldn't mind coming by only on Mondays or Wednesdays or limiting your calls to the mid-afternoon hours, I think that would make things easier for us to handle.” Whether you say this to one particular relative or to everyone in the family, it could ultimately help to reduce the stress of interacting with that one particular relative.
Appoint a “Gatekeeper”
For some, dealing with a particular family member can be anxiety-producing, exhausting and/or can get your “blood boiling.” Selecting a person who can talk directly with this relative to relay updates, maintain contact and essentially filter any negative feedback can help to reduce the anxiety, exhaustion and frustration you would experience otherwise. The key to choosing a “gatekeeper” is to pick someone who will keep the “drama” out of it and stick to the facts. This person could be a relative, a friend, a neighbor or even a hired professional. Regardless of who you choose, it should be someone who is reliable, dependable and level-headed.
Sometimes taking the above approaches don’t work and the only thing left is to be upfront about what you are feeling and experiencing in your role as a caregiver. If a relative is calling too much, making too many recommendations or being too intrusive – let them know. Worst case scenario, you offend your relative and he/she ceases communication with you. Best case scenario, you reduce the amount of stress you are experiencing since your relative now understands your responsibilities and respects your stated wishes. While you may not want to be upfront for fear of creating family friction, you ultimately have to think about yourself and put your own emotional, physical and spiritual well-being first. “Saving face” is generally not worth risking your own sanity and health. Plus, as I often mention to caregivers, if you don't take care of yourself, then who will take care of you and your loved one?
If you would like to share your thoughts about this post or offer some advice, please do so below. Also, feel free to share this post with friends and family members whom you believe could benefit from reading it.
Christine M. Valentin
As a licensed clinical social worker, I help individuals caring for a loved one reduce feelings of anxiety, depression and stress. This blog is meant to share with you, many of the suggestions I recommend to many family caregivers. Sign up to receive them directly.