Becoming a Caregiver for your In-Laws
In-laws can be your worst nightmare, your best friends, or fall somewhere in the middle. Merging two families can be tricky. You may come from different backgrounds, cultures, or have different ways of communicating and accomplishing tasks.
“Remembering they raised and love the person you love and enjoy their company.” – Jeanine Parrish Giuliano
My sister-in-law was an enormous help when it came to caring for my mom. Coming from a nursing background she already knew a lot, but she was also able to listen to my mom with compassion for hours on end. My partner, Jon, also was by my side. He was not concerned with the sight of blood or other bodily fluids. I was not sure how he would react in the most intimate moments when we needed to act immediately. There was no time to think about things when blood is shooting all over the room. I remember one day my mom had had an accident and she was bleeding profusely from her leg. She did not realize the severity of the injury. Sarah called me and said, “It looks like a CSI crime scene in here.” Jon and I came over, and Jon scooped her up off the ground and said: “It’s nothing, it’s just like the baby cows on the farm.”
We were so fortunate to have another loving sister-in-law join our family. Lynne came from a large family, and I am not sure she had any idea what she was getting herself into, but I knew she loved my brother Chris and that was enough for me. She tells the story of the first time she met my mom. At this point, Chris had not shared how sick my mom was with Lynne. Upon their arrival, my mom was gushing over Chris and then she asked, “Where is Lynne?” My mom could not see, and Lynne did not have a clue. Well, welcome the family, Miss Lynne!
All of them helped, cared for and loved my mother like she was their own. I can’t imagine going through the experience without their love and support, but everyone is different. So today we’re sharing some tips if your partners loved one is now needing some additional assistance.
“We never differentiate between “YOUR family” or “MY family,” it’s always OUR family from the day we were married.” – Barbara Rocco Adams.
First off, I think it’s important to recognize that you may not have the same patience with your in-laws as you do with your parents. Since our parents raised us and provided for us we tend to feel more responsible for them. But remember, even if you see eye to eye with your in-laws on everything, these are the people that raised the person you love. So try and work as a team and lose the “they’re your parents not mine” mentality. Make sure you’re there for your spouse- while it can be frustrating sometimes, it’s important you’re there for them to vent as after all, it is their parent they’re watching decline.
Teamwork and compromising can save you from heartbreak and resentment in the end. But talk with your spouse about what you expect, make sure they don’t end up taking you for granted and that he/she is doing their share as well. More often than not, women end up becoming the primary caregiver for family members, in-laws or not. But regardless of gender, everyone can and should pitch in. For some, this won’t be a problem. Like I’ve said before, both of my brothers were very involved in the caring for our parents. Yes, there were things such as bathing and showering my mom that was less awkward for me or my sister-in-law to do than my brothers, but in the end, if things needed to be done, it didn’t matter who did them.
Don’t be afraid to hold your partner’s siblings accountable, even siblings that are out of state. There are so many things they can still do that will help take the burden off of the siblings that are closer. Bills can be paid online, they can make a schedule to call or facetime a few times a week to check up on things, communicating with agencies, even taking the time to look up community resources can help.
If you and your spouse are not on the same page it can create hard feelings down the line. So be sure to set boundaries and limits before starting. It’s much easier to take on more once you’re acclimated versus having to take away. If there are things you’re not comfortable doing, don’t feel obligated. Instead, offer to help in other ways. For example, maybe you’d be happy to do the grocery shopping or driving your in-laws to appointments. If you’ve decided to take on a lot of the work, make sure you have some “time off”. Hiring paid caregivers to come in a few times a week can help ensure you’ll get a break. It’s common for people to become dependent on one person as they age. My mom was so accustomed to calling me or asking me questions that she would ask a sighted person to call me to ask where something was in the refrigerator. We had to laugh, but it demonstrated her dependence on one person.
Overall I think the bottom line comes down to making sure you discuss with your spouse (and yourself!) that if it becomes too much, you’ll look into other options. Keep the lines of communication open, so you both feel supported through this process.