Did your parent remarry after you left the nest? You may not have had a chance to get to know your stepparent all that well. It’s possible you’ve been on friendly enough terms, but your parent’s declining health might be changing that. Your new stepparent may be making decisions that you and your siblings disagree with. They might be making all the decisions regarding your parent’s care and leaving you out of the loop completely. In today’s modern families, it’s a predicament that many adult children struggle with. What is the best course of action? And how can you improve family relations all around and be involved in decisions about care?
Here are some options that might help ease the situation.
“Keep in mind that watching your parent decline is probably equally hard if not harder for the stepparent. This is your parent’s spouse,” says Judy Santamaria, MSPH, expert in family caregiving. “Try to see things from your stepparent’s perspective and respect that relationship. Your stepparent may in fact know more about what your parent wants.”
It can be difficult to accept the declining health of a parent. You might also want to ask yourself: Are you thinking of what is best for your family member or are you thinking of what is best for you?
Try to avoid problems by ensuring you know your parent’s wishes while they are still well enough to express them. “The more that can get done ahead of time the better,” says Santamaria. “If your parent still has their mental faculties, discuss these care issues. It’s best to hold a family meeting where your parent’s wishes are made public. This way, everyone knows your mom or dad’s feelings about the house, the money, going into a nursing home, and end-of-life care.”
Every caregiver needs help, and often the best way to forge a connection with a parent’s spouse is to lend a hand. “Show that you are there,” says Santamaria. “Offer a little assistance, go to the pharmacy, run to the grocery store, hire someone to clean the house, or straighten up yourself. Your stepparent will see you are there for them as well as that of your parent, and will come to trust you and perhaps involve you in care decisions that arise.”
If you’re still feeling frozen out of your parent’s life or if you have concerns over their care, bringing in a third party to mediate the situation might help. “In more cases than not, the person making decisions is trying their best to work in their spouse’s best interests. But there are cases where that doesn’t happen. If you really suspect someone is doing something not in your parent’s best interests, then it is perfectly legitimate for you to try to bring in a mediator or advisor.” However, Santamaria emphasizes that before taking drastic measures, try to open the lines of communication. “Communication really is key in these types of situations.”