Thursday, March 17, 2016

Caregiving in Blended Families

Recently, I wrote recently about my in-laws and their accumulated treasures. What I did not discuss is my family's recent health situation. My in-laws are wonderful people, stubborn as old goats , but wonderful never the less and aging fast.  They are each others second spouses, as as their previous ones passed away. Each have their own children, my mother-in-law a son(my husband) and a daughter and my father-in-law, two sons and a daughter. In the 22 years I have been in the family I can count on one hand how often we have all been together. Apparently early on in their 35 year relationship they decided to keep their families separate.

 Now that they both are getting older, my father-in-law it seems is aging much faster than my mother-in-law and life is becoming very challenging for both.

My father in law suffers from leukemia and essential tremors, add to that skin cancer, pneumonia, and several other illnesses in the last year that affect the aging population, and it has become a real effort and dilemma to keep him healthy and happy.

My father-in-law refuses to move out of their house, because he built the house with his first love and first wife, I completely understand these sentiments and everyone wants him to be able to live out his life in the house. But he will also not allow live-in-help or even allow his own children to come a few days a month to let my moth-in-law have some much needed rest. Consequently, my mother-in-law is his primary, make that ONLY caregiver. She is 88 herself, 5'2 and about 90 pounds, he is 88, 6 foot tall and considerably heavier. I am sure that you can imagine that lifting him off the ground when he falls is a near impossible task.

Sadly, his attitude is beginning to create ill feelings because we(my mother in laws side of the family) feel helpless; not only because we live half way across the country from them but also because we love my father- in-law but are disheartened that his actions are detrimental to my mother-in-law and her well-being.

  Although we suggest in-home nurses, or perhaps downsizing, he will have none of it. He will not compromise in any way. 

His health and attitude is taking its toll on my mother-in-law because obviously she loves him and wants to honor his wishes but also because he will not be truthful about his health situation to his own children. If I were absolutely honest, I would say that they are happy to have my mother-in-law handle it. Don't get me wrong, the come to the hospital and visit the house all the time. They have also insisted that their dad use a cane and the other items they have brought like the chair in the shower and things like that.

 My mother-in-law is exhausted all the time from taking him to appointments, running back and forth to the hospital numerous times a day when he is in there with food, clothes, etc, and taking care of him at home. She just needs a break.

If I come across as unfeeling I think it is because I am frustrated. I am torn because I love both of them, BUT, these are not my parents and I am in no position to make demands and decisions about their care. In fact even when they have asked us for help and advice they seem to do the opposite. If these were my parents I am sure that I would be a wreck trying to figure out how to realize their wishes, and to keep them safe as well.

End of life care is a challenge for everyone, those living it and those on the fringes. 

Is anyone else in a situation like this that can offer a bit of advice on how to cope and get through a situation like this?

Life in a blended family is a day to day challenge but especially when the kids are very young and the parents are very old. I would welcome any and all advice as I love them both but also could use some coping skills in this situation as my own parents are 18 years younger.

Thanks for the advice!


  1. It happens, blended or not. Try getting your MIL help at least during the day, every day. It's expensive--much more so than assisted living. There also are adult daycare facilities with activities and help for things like going to the toilet, so your MIL can have some rest.

  2. I have been in this situation, and you LEARN. Oh my, do you learn. It's tough while you are in the process because everyone gives so much and much is taken away (your health as well), but it's necessary, it's what you do when you love someone. Blessings to you ALL!

  3. Does any kids on the father's side live near them? Can they support their stepmom by giving her a day or weekend relief. Then they might get the picture! Sounds like they are cut from the same cloth.

  4. Great post, Elizabeth. I feel a lot of my friends are facing the same obstacles with their older relatives. Have a good week.

  5. I can't imagine how a 5'2, 90 pound woman could handle taking care of a 6 ft 88 year old man with health problems without help. Someone needs to make it clear to him that if he doesn't accept some outside help, he's going to lose her... and then what would he do? But I know that sometimes old men (and old women) can be extremely hard-headed and obstinate. There comes a time when someone (a son or daughter perhaps) has to lay down the law. I hate to say that as at 70 ourselves, I would hate for it to ever come to that... but do know that sometimes it is necessary when someone you love is in danger (as your MIL may well be). And pray! I'm not religious, but do believe that prayers and thoughts are powerful...

  6. She needs to talk to his doctor. An objective third party giving the advice might go over better.

  7. Oh dear. I feel your pain Elizabeth--it's so hard to be on the sidelines and feel helpless when it's clear that real changes need to happen now. I haven't been in that situation myself, and I know it's complicated dealing with blood relatives but the truth is that as our parents age the roles need to change. It's the reality. In some ways our parents regress emotionally and yes, it even seems like they become more like our children. Boundaries need to be set when it comes to their health or your MIL is going to get very ill or depressed without help. Unfortunately, someone needs to set a limit with your FIL for his own health and that of his wife's. Someone needs to be clear: if you want to continue to live in your home you need to have outside help. It's that simple. I agree with some of the other comments---bringing in professionals to support this view will help. Good luck dear, sending you lots of prayers for strength and positive energy.

  8. Oh Elizabeth I wish I could offer some good advice or a solution to your dilemma but sounds like everything has been tried. My SIL's mother is going through this. She is quite elderly - being almost 70 myself - but still work full time - it's hard to call someone else elderly but she is in her 90's. She lives alone and sleeps most all the time. My SIL has offered to find an assisted living for her but she won't have it. She forgets things a lot and doesn't eat well although they have meals on wheels. This lady has money and could keep her own place and move into assisted living so she could visit "her stuff" as she calls it but she won't do it. It's hard to insist because even though I am not involved I see what he is going through. God bless your family and hopefully they can come to a solution although it looks like your poor MIL is taking the brunt. It appears to me that the MIL is going to have to take the steps to do something or she is going to drop in her tracks. Good luck.

  9. I feel your pain Elizabeth. My grandfather was very similar, it was heartbreaking to watch. My grandmother passed away years before him, I can only imagine what it would have been like for her if she lived alongside him to the end. He passed away at 99, just one month shy of 100. Five children and only one gave him the attention he needed and even then it was at the expense of her own life and happiness. So very fustrating. I wish I had an answer for you, truly. There are a few good suggestions in the comments above, hopefully, one of them will shed some light. xx


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