Blurred caregiving responsibilities in blended families

home care omahaCaregiving responsibilities are often blurred in blended families. For example, the husband of an aging couple is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. The wife needs help with her husband’s care but when she reaches out to her now grown children from a previous marriage, they are reluctant in offering much help in overseeing the care of their stepfather. Likewise, the husband’s children are hesitant to offer help as well, as they assume their father’s new wife will take on most if not all caregiving responsibilities.

This topic was the focus of a recent article on The New York Time’s New Old Age blog, which revealed that the boomer generation — the generation most likely to have step children — will likely find themselves in scenarios very similar to the example above. Pew research backs this up. A study found that 42 percent of the 2,700 people surveyed had at least one step-relative.

Atlanta-based clinical social worker Moira Keller told the Times that the lines are blurry who’s going to do what. For one, most grown children don’t have much history with their parent’s new spouse and thus don’t feel obligated to intervene or help out when a step parent becomes ill. Another possibility is that it’s often unclear who even has decision making authority — children or the new spouse.

The article noted that there are other situations that can lead to a stepchild’s lack of participation in caregiving. Research has shown that the obligation to become a caregiver is weaker in stepchildren than in biological children, who naturally feel the need to reciprocate the care they received from their parents who raised them. More dubious factors such as money can enter into the equation as well.

So what should older couples who remarry do? Discuss what will happen when illness or dependence strike, however difficult a subject it might be to talk about.

“Who’s going to take care of you if you become sick? Talk about that while you’re still healthy, Keller told the Times.If I could yell one thing from a mountaintop it’s to talk about this stuff.”

What roles should stepchildren play in caregiving? Let us know in the comments or on Twitter.

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