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Caring for Your In-laws

It may be that you and your spouse live closest to their parents. Maybe they’re an only child. Whatever the reason, your spouse may want to—or have to—take care of their parents as their health begins to fail. But when your partner’s schedule prevents them from attending to their parents’ day-to-day needs, you may end up doing most (or all) of the work.

Caring for your in-laws can be both easier and more challenging than caring for your own parents.

You may find your in-laws are less likely to push your buttons and you’re less likely to get emotional. At the same time, you may feel resentful as your in-laws’ needs increase. You may feel angry if  you never really got along with them, or if your spouse or their family second-guess your decisions.

Honest and frequent communication is critical to avoid conflict. Whether you’re just beginning to discuss your role as a caregiver or if you’re in danger of hitting the wall, keep these points in mind as you negotiate with each relative:

Your Spouse

If their siblings or parents feel strongly about one plan of action while you advocate for another, your spouse may feel torn.

  • Make sure they are as involved as possible in care decisions and are aware of the problems you face.
  • Allow them to help you to understand any potential resistance due to family dynamics or history.

When the two of you agree on the best solution, you can present a united front when discussing care options with your in-laws.

Their Siblings

Your goal here is to help your siblings-in-law to understand changes in their parents’ condition that may soon require a different level of care or attention.

  • Periodic family meetings, either in person or via Skype or FaceTime, will keep everyone up-to-date.
  • As your in-laws’ needs change, be very clear about caregiving tasks you will and will not do. Either solicit volunteers or assign those duties.
  • When you and your spouse speak with their siblings, maintain a team mentality.

As your responsibility increases, your authority should as well.

Their Parents

Caregiving is an inherently intimate act. As you provide more care for your in-laws, you will see more of them (literally and figuratively). You will also become increasingly involved in their lives. You may need to learn about their financial or legal affairs or about their medical histories. They may rely on you in ways you don’t anticipate. As the dynamic of your relationship changes, remember to respect confidences and confidential information.