The majority of us feel obliged to help an ailing parent (77 percent, according to Pew Research Center). But if your parent is okay and your stepparent is ill, then what? Should you help with caregiving? (Pew data indicate 56 percent of us feel obliged.) What if your parent also has health challenges and providing care is too much? What about your stepsiblings?
These are good questions best answered in advance.
Here are some ways to generate teamwork no matter who is involved.
- What are the elders’ thoughts about care? Talk with your parent first, but eventually with your stepparent also. Ask: When the time comes that more help is needed, what are their plans? Stay at home and hire helpers? Get help from the kids? (Any thoughts about who might do what?) Move to assisted living or memory care (together or apart)? Move in with family? (Whose?)
- Create connections. Perhaps you grew up together. Or it may be that you’ve never met your stepsiblings. (This is not unusual with a late-life marriage. But you don’t want your first meeting to be in the ER!) At the least, identify one or two of your stepparent’s children you think might be receptive and trade emails and phone numbers. Frame it as a way to keep each other apprised in case problems are observed with either parent. Consider “liking” them on Facebook and making supportive comments now and then. That’s an easy way to start building a friendly rapport that will be invaluable in a crisis.
- Offer to get a conversation started with all the siblings. Perhaps hold a meeting of the “family” with all its members. This way both parents can share their thinking so far. If even a virtual meeting is impractical, you might encourage the parents to write a joint letter to all the siblings so everyone gets the same information at once.
- If the parents aren’t sure what they want. Ask what you might do to help. Perhaps you can facilitate a meeting of just the siblings—no parents—to see who is available to do what should the time come that help is needed.
- Set aside family politics. Every family has baggage. Perhaps you already have some strong feelings about your stepsiblings. When dealing with aging parents, it’s necessary to leave issues with each other at the door and focus simply on helping the elders in need. If this proves unmanageable, consider hiring a professional such as a counselor who is trained to facilitate family meetings.