Family Dynamics: Caring for In-laws

When Care-giving Threatens the Family's Functioning–Part 2: In-laws and Spouse.

In Susan Diamond’s article (see link above)she uses an interesting analogy; she compares maintaining family balance to a mobile. This concept was central to my caregiving experience, and was a topic I re-visited frequently in my caregiving book, “What to Do about Mama?”

By assuming the role of primary caregiver for my mother-in-law, I had the opportunity to demonstrate to my mother-in-law and siblings-in-law my appreciation for being a part of their family since I was 18 years old. I was also able to show thanks to my parents-in-law for providing support in our times of need. Most of all, I was able to show gratitude for their assistance and encouragement in helping to provide our children with their college educations. This was to be my gift to my all of my in-laws.

But after 7 years of caregiving, 4 of those in our home, I felt quite differently. I felt that most of the escalating friction of the last two years could be attributed to my role as an in-law caregiver. I found that I didn’t really understand how to navigate the family culture. It had just not been a problem before the relationship had become so complex.

Although I believe my husband has a deeper appreciation for me because I assumed the role of primary caregiver for his mother, I would say that his siblings do not. As a matter of fact, our contact is infrequent now that I am no longer useful to them (and because my husband makes few overtures to his family).

Your statement: “When our spouse’s aging parents require more attention and care, in-laws–whether loved or not–are thrust into the family’s dynamics. Obviously this changes the balance. The way we handle it is key,” is correct. Clearly, our family dynamics will never be the same again.

Barbara Matthews