Changing Caregiver Relationships: Navigating Role Reversals

Jul 13, 2023

I was driving with my mom when she casually mentioned that she’d started having to help one of our family members in the bathroom. Not like a once-a-while type of experience either. It was an all-of-the-time, every type of bathroom visit sort of help. She’s worked in the medical field for the past 30 years, so she didn’t seem to be phased by it, but if I put myself in her shoes, I’d be lost. Family roles are established early on, and any shifts in these dynamics can cause a lot of uncomfortable feelings. Yet, in the case of caregiving, caregivers aren’t really given the opportunity to decide if they want these relationship dynamics to change. 

Today we’re going to tackle another tricky problem in the caregiving world: navigating the ever stressful and uncertain relationship dynamic changes that can occur with parent-child caregiver relationship role reversals. 

How Caregiving Changes Your Relationships

Depending on the nature of your loved ones’ health and ongoing conditions, caregiving tasks can range from managing groceries and financial accounts to full-on healthcare tasks such as bathing and dressing. Chicago Methodist Senior Services notes that sometimes these dynamic shifts can cause awkward feelings or even embarrassment for the parent (especially when coming from someone whom they helped with these same tasks early in their life). Additionally, tasks such as bathing or bathroom assistance may cause the care receiver to experience resentment, frustration, or otherwise feelings of inadequacy, discomfort, or even feeling like it’s unnatural for their child to care for them in this manner.

Additionally, communication dynamics may shift depending on the health of your family member or even because they’re feeling a lot of internal conflict regarding the changing nature of your relationship. From memory issues to stress about all of the changes happening, communication may be strained, different, or even just “off” for a while.

These changes can be hard to work through but know that they’ll usually get better with time, and there are some steps you can take to help alleviate the stress they may cause.

How to Manage These Changes

Practice Open Communication

Some family members may feel bad or even guilty about asking you to take on extra burdens or even asking for help. Practicing open communication about your willingness to help, having honest conversations about how everyone is feeling, and making sure you’re all on the same page will be incredibly helpful in aiding the transitions that happen when these roles change. Being open with your loved ones and creating a safe space to discuss feelings, fears, and emotions about all of the changes going on in your family and in their life can help bring peace to a potentially tumultuous situation and help alleviate the stress you both may be experiencing. 

Communicate Expectations

If you’re the sole caregiver for an aging loved one, your family may have unrealistic expectations about how much time, effort, and energy you’re going to need to spend providing care for your loved one. Often these expectations come from a place of misunderstanding or lack of education rather than a place of malice or ill will. Simply communicating expectations, roles, and efforts can help reduce conflicts, create an environment of open communication (like we talked about above), and keep everyone on the same page. You can also use the Avanlee App to stay on top of scheduling and other caregiving tasks in a way that makes appointments, medications, and health information visible to the entire family. 

It gets better

Watching family dynamics and relationship roles shift as you enter a new chapter in your life and in your loved one’s life can be stressful, but having potentially difficult conversations early on can help set expectations, clarify any points of confusion, and help keep everyone on the same page. Finding a system for you and your family that works and makes sense for everyone will be a trial and error process, but it will settle into a routine eventually. Make sure to take some time for yourself as well as some time to spend with your loved ones to enjoy one another’s company without worrying about the ongoing to-do lists. 

Here at Avanlee Care, we’re passionate about simplifying some of your caregiving journeys, especially when it comes to coordinating care with family members. You can get started for free with the Avanlee App today for iOS or Android.