The popular TV show The Brady Bunch showed American audiences an idealized version of a perfectly blended family, with six children, two parents, and a housekeeper. Despite the fact that each parent was only genetically related to three of the kids, they functioned as a family and showed us weekly lessons about love and what it means to be a family. But in real life, things don’t always go so smoothly, and one question is what would have happened to Mike and Carol Brady after the six kids moved out, they entered their senior years, and found themselves needing childcare?
Caring for aging parents naturally comes with many challenges for any family, but in blended or stepfamilies, additional issues can surface. There may be conflicted loyalties towards one parent or the other, and there may be friction over who is in charge to make decisions. Over 40% of Americans today have at least one step-relative, and most will be in a situation somewhere down the road where caring for one or more aging parent or step-parent will become an issue. Studies have shown through studies of blended families and Alzheimer’s care that a lack of shared family history and norms is likely to affect the way step family members cope with the demands of taking care of a loved one with dementia.
But as with all things family related, arranging for the care of aging parents in a step family doesn’t have to be contentious or acrimonious. There are several helpful actions that you can take, whether you’re the parent, a biological relative, or a step relative, which will all serve to promote compassion and cooperation.
One of the best steps that can be taken in, not just step families, but all families, is organizing and completing all the necessary information for advance care planning, well before a change occurs. Deciding what is and isn’t important to you as you get older, as well as deciding who will be authorized to make medical decisions according to your wishes and best interests, is key to making sure that you will get the care that you want. However, sharing each and all of those plans and directives and decisions with all of your family members is critical. When everyone is properly informed of the plan, or at least what it should be, it becomes much easier for everyone involved to support and affirm the decisions. Take the same approach with your estate planning, will and testament, and any other important considerations.
In some situations, specific individuals will have the legal authority to make decisions. Though not everyone may like it, the arrangement must still be respected. With that comes the responsibility of the person with that authority to meaningfully involve the rest of the family. Stressful situations can build and turn small resentments into big ones. Respectful communication is a balm that ensures no one is burned. There will be twists and turns throughout the journey, and you may not be able to change the reactions and emotions of the people around you.