In-Home Care for Family Members
A growing number of families with children are caring for an aging or infirm relative. This can include a grandparent, aunt or uncle, or even a more distant relation. Whether it’s temporary care following surgery, or long-term care due to a debilitating condition, more and more families find the best option for caring for ailing relatives is to invite them into their home. How can families ease the transition and help children adapt to the changes in their household?
Your kids probably fall into one of two categories: children who have developed a relationship with their grandparent or relative, and may be upset by the changes they see in the person they love, and those who may consider their grandparents or relatives near-strangers.
Either way, don’t push bonding. Avoid pressuring the relative to join you on your walk or play video games; ask, but don’t cajole. Likewise, don’t force your child to interact with the relative. Require respectful and polite behavior, but your kids don’t have to sit through reruns of old television shows with grandma or grandpa.
“Families need to let go of preconceived ideas of what the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren will be,” says Shelly Edwards, an outreach and program director with the Alzheimer’s Association. She describes how roles can change, such as entrusting a teenager with “babysitting” grandma, rather than grandma babysitting the grandkids.
Discuss the relative’s condition in terms your child can understand. Will aspects of the person’s condition upset your children? How can you explain in advance what to expect? Keep talking and respond to children’s questions as they arise.
Educate yourself and continually reassess and adjust as needed. Edwards recommends families learn all they can about a loved one’s condition and care needs to determine whether they can provide adequate care without harming themselves physically or emotionally.
Work together to establish rules for use of communal space and needs for privacy. Depending on the grandparent’s level of mobility, parents might consider a refresher lesson in knocking before entering.
Come up with a system to address conflicts or misunderstandings. Keep a notebook in which older children can write concerns, perhaps anonymously, to be reviewed later and to allow parents time to find solutions or answers to questions.
Create a family check-in time when kids can talk freely. This may mean out of earshot of the relative. Ask kids what is bothering them and be prepared to listen without judgment. Pose questions: Is anything bugging you? Are you worried about anything? What is working especially well? What do you think we could do differently? Is there anything going on that strikes you as particularly unfair right now, for yourself or for someone else?
Kids need to learn to be flexible and accommodating, but if grandma’s presence brings all regular pursuits to a halt, kids will become resentful. If it becomes necessary to reduce the number of activities your kids are involved in, avoid using the grandparent as the primary excuse.
Compassion grows in children who feel loved, secure and nurtured by others. As caregiver to your own relative, you’re setting an admirable example for your children, but don’t forget to take time to laugh and have fun with them. Take care of yourself and be sure your kids know they are safe and loved during this transition, however long it lasts.
Heather Lee Leap is a freelance writer with 19 years of parenting experience, which included six months of caring for her mother in her home.