Tuesday, August 28, 2012

When Stepfamilies Face Caregiving

This week I taught a caregiving workshop and had the opportunity to talk about another layer of caregiving challenges that families face. It’s one that folks bring up one-to-one after a workshop because there is still shame and discomfort. But the truth is that the Boomer Bump that brings us so much caregiving and huge changes in our medical system also produce more stepfamilies. There are simply more of us in the 50 to 65 group. So we have more marriages, divorces, remarriages, second families, and therefore more stepparents and step kids. 

What do you do when the patient is a stepparent or the caregiving involves stepchildren? It can be that the natural parent needs extra help with their spouse but the kids are stepchildren who feel disloyal or angry, or maybe the ill parent has kids who don’t want to share caregiving duties with a “new” husband or wife.

John and I faced that and it was painful. His adult children –angry about their parents divorce --would not participate in any caregiving. And even refused to visit John in the hospital. We had so many friends who did pitch in, and that caregiving team bonded so well, that we were not hurt logistically, but emotionally the hurt was huge.

That is the tricky part of step family caregiving: there is enough old and new pain to affect everyone: parent, stepparent, the exes and even the new spouses on both sides.

Every issue that stirs the pot in family caregiving: time, money, travel, decision making, fear and facing death gets an extra jab and extra level of pain in a step family. The standard advice about having a family meeting to make a caregiving team may not work if exes are refusing to work with a new partner, or still tugging at the kid’s loyalties.

While family therapy may be the best call for stepfamilies in non-crisis time, when cancer caregiving hits there is not time or energy for that luxury. That’s when good friends and the couple themselves have to make a conscious decision to make a new family of choice.


Anonymous said...

life is hard

Anonymous said...

Diane, You are right-so many things are about choice. I am assuming your "John" was a decent kind of guy who tried to work out issues in his marriage, went to counseling, etc. There is a whole different aura to a divorce when both partners try and it just doesn't work.
I know a family where the husband just announced to his wife and their adult children one night that he was leaving to live with his married mistress. This type of choice creates feelings of betrayal, abandonment and shock. The man they knew and loved as father would never be so callous or immoral.
The wife I knew in this situation did her best to reconcile her sons to their father but her attempts to facilitate contact were angrily rebuffed by the unfaithful husband and his mistress.
Bottom line? Even people who are very ill need to acknowledge and live with the consequences of their choices. I hope the John that you know and the John that I know is able to make amends with his ex wife and his children.

Diane said...

Dear Anon--In any stepfamily there is plenty of pain--and no one never relaly knows what happens in a marriage--we all have our best guesses and we are all too human. You are right to hope that there can be peace on earth.

Anonymous said...

That peace you speak about begins with three little words "I am sorry."