Caring with a stepparent

Has your parent remarried? If so, you may be sharing the caregiving with a person you don’t know very well. Biological families often encounter tensions when it comes to eldercare. Add a stepparent and the challenges can grow exponentially.

At its best. A stepparent can be a wonderful partner in care. Their daily companionship and support may be very meaningful to your parent. Plus, it’s easier to accept assistance with intimate tasks from a partner than from a child. Ask them how you might be of help. It may be running errands, talking with the doctor, communicating with other siblings, paying for extra help, or giving your stepparent a break now and then. Celebrate victories with them: A successful surgery, a clear cancer report. And don’t forget to thank your stepparent regularly for all they do.

Sometimes it’s complicated. Many adult children believe that their stepparent is standing between them and their mom/dad. Or them and the doctor. Perhaps. Or it may be that the spouse is simply overwhelmed or distressed. They could be waiting until there’s a diagnosis and plan in place to tell you there’s a problem. Remember, a health crisis is a crisis in their marriage. They may not have discussed beforehand how they would handle medical emergencies or serious illness. Until you know otherwise, assume everyone is doing the best they can.

Respect roles. Become allies. If your parent named you as health care decision maker in their advance directive, plan ahead with your parent and stepparent about when you would like to be informed of a problem and how the three of you can work together. If at some point you have a “better” treatment path to suggest, consider: Will it require more work for one or both of them? Can you ease the burden? If not, you may need to bow to what your parent and stepparent feel they can handle. If your stepparent is the health care power of attorney, ask for permission before trying to speak with the doctor. Ideally, manage your concerns in a way that avoids creating strife in the marriage, as that truly doesn’t benefit your parent. Respect the decisions they have made and find common cause to cooperate with your stepparent to make your mutual loved one’s recovery or final days as positive and stress free as possible.