Hope for living, loving and caring with no regrets!
This week, Rayna Neises, your host, talks with Leslie McLeod. Leslie is a writer, artist, mom, and co-owner of a technology company. From her experience with her siblings caring for their parents, she has developed a passion for building relationships among families with aging parents. She is currently writing a book to help families survive their season of caring without the added burden of preventable relationship damage. She shares the following insights and some tips from her “Do and Don’t” List:
- For most, there is no precedent or preparation for the caring season.
- There will be a resurgence of unresolved family-of-origin issues.
- Grief impacts the process, not just at the end.
- Communication is key. Check for meaning and understanding. Use body language as clues.
- DO – Appoint a gatekeeper to disseminate medical information to everyone.
- DO – Give your parent the last word whenever possible.
- DO – Have one person manage the inheritance treasures process.
- DO – Be proactive in assigning responsibilities.
- DON’T – Exclude siblings completely.
- DON’T – Divide into teams.
- DON’T – Resist creative ideas from siblings.
- DO – Self-care!
- DO – Laugh through this sad, challenging season.
- DON’T – Pass up a hug.
- DO – Capture memories.
- DO – Allow grace for all team members.
- Keep updated regarding Leslie’s book on this topic at her site: lamcleod.com
*Transcript is an actual recount of the live conversation
This isn’t so much focusing on the parent, which is really where most of our focus goes during the season is we’re very concerned about mom and dad. We want them well, we want them here for a long time. We want them healthy and happy and comfortable, but what’s going on is a whole lot of dynamics between the siblings and not just the siblings but we have other relatives and relationships that are involved in this process.
That was our guest today Leslie McCloud who’s sharing the do’s and don’ts about your relationship with your siblings and caring for your aging parents. Welcome to Season of Caring Podcast, where there’s hope for living, loving, and caring with no regrets. This is Rayna Neises, your host, and I’m glad that you’re here today. Leslie’s a writer, artist, mom, and a co-owner tech company with her husband. She has a passion for building up relationships, especially among families with aging parents. She and her siblings rally together several years ago to care for both her mother and father simultaneously. They handle some things well and other things not so well with repercussions that took years to resolve based on her experience, she is writing a book to help family’s survive their season of caring without the added burden of preventable relationship damage. The working title is Caring for Mom and Dad Together: Navigate Family Drama and Keep the Peace in Your Parents Season of Need. Leslie has interviewed dozens of men and women offering their stories along with her own to help fellow caregivers know that they aren’t alone. Giving them tools to traverse the sometimes turbulent waters of this journey with compassion and grace. Leslie, I’m so excited to have you here today. This is such an important topic. I can’t wait to have you share with our audience just some great tips about how to deal with those relationships.
Thank you. It’s really an honor to be here.
Oh conflict. I mean, conflict is a part of every relationship definitely, so why do you think it’s even more prevalent, in the season of taking care of your aging parents?
Well, if I can just give a little background about our situation, if that’s okay.
I’m one of five siblings and we always had a tight knit family growing up. We thought we still had a tight-knit family, but it had never really been through the crucible of something like this experience of caring for both my mom and dad at the same time, from all across the country, the five of us. You want to agree, we didn’t always. So basically the decline and the loss of our mother six years ago, and then our Dad, a year later was a one, two punch that revealed the best and the worst of our families, relationships and coping skills. My dad had exhibited some memory and behavior issues for awhile. My mom obviously had some physical problems, but typical of that generation, they covered it up and they didn’t didn’t want to bother us. They had been living independently and we had no idea how many areas of their life were gradually falling apart. So we were basically blindsided when my mom wound up in the hospital after an accidental overdose of blood thinner. Very suddenly take a look at their situation, rally together to make some changes. For the most part, we all had the same goal and that was to keep our parents healthy and comfortable as long as possible. But we ran into some serious issues in the process that had repercussions and regret that lasted for years. I did some research and learned a whole lot after the fact that would have helped me during the process. So my goal is to share that with other women and men. This isn’t so much focusing on the parent, which is really where most of our focus goes during the season is we’re very concerned about mom and dad. We want them well, we want them here for a long time. We want them healthy and happy and comfortable, but what’s going on is a whole lot of dynamics between the siblings and not just the siblings. I’m focusing on siblings, but we have other relatives and relationships that are involved in this process. Most of us at this season, if we have children and they’re grown or at least teenagers. And so they’re very much involved in what’s happening with their grandparents, and they may have a more active role in and input as well, so that’s another dynamic. we may have a spouse. That’s going to be very much impacted by how much time and effort we put into caring for our parents. So, there’s a whole lot of dynamics going on there. The problem is there is no precedent for this season for most of us. When you have a baby, there’s tons of resources. You read everything, you listen to everything. You’re bringing a new life into the world. And so there’s lots of preparation. It’s happy preparation. This is the other end of the life continuum. And it’s something that nobody wants to think about. So you don’t want to talk about it. We don’t want to think about we’re in denial. We don’t seek out information and maybe it’s there, but we haven’t looked for it. We haven’t wanted to. And so we’re coming into this season with no precedent and no preparation. And that really sets up a lot of potential unrest, because you’re flying off the cuff ,on a lot of these situations. It’s not something that you’ve thought about. So conflict is very common during the season of parental caregiving for a lot of reasons and that’s one of them. We’re looking at dynamite dynamics in terms of our siblings. Now we’re making decisions, life and death, literally decisions after being years apart, maybe we get along great, maybe we have a very strange relationship and we just talk once a year at Christmas, but here we are making decisions about probably one of the most, if not the most important person on our life together. Everybody’s got a strong opinion and we may or may not have communication skills or a decent relationship to navigate this together. So that’s real unique to this season. You’re going to have a resurgence of unresolved family of origin issues. If I always thought she was the princess, boy, am I going to be affected by her being the princess right now? You know, I always thought he was the show off or he was unplugged and didn’t care. That’s going to come up now, too. It’s just like you look at a pond or a creek and it’s very clear and lovely, but then you stir up the bottom a little bit and all of a sudden it’s cloudy and, and there’s things going on in there. You may have a step family, you may have a difficult sibling. Somebody that’s kind of gone off the rails. And you have to involve them as well. You know, maybe they have drug problems or family issues of their own, but they have to be part of what’s happening. You have dueling expectations. So that’s, what’s going on in that sibling realm. You’re looking at mom and dad. Another huge part of the caregiving component is independence versus the need for care. How much, and when do we take on the responsibility for their care, for their well-being, for their livelihood. And those are big decisions. Everybody’s going to have a strong opinion about that. There is no right or wrong. And so that’s a very tough issue to navigate. Relocating when, where, and whether your mom and dad need to live somewhere else. Is there a dementia component? Do I have a terrible relationship with my mom and dad? Has there been a history of abuse and separation medical decisions? Do we provide comfort, extend life? Who decides those are huge issues when honoring your mother and father as a team really can be fraught with a lot of things. Another component of the conflict issue is the talk, how do we communicate with each other? Do we communicate with each other? You got verbal. When you talk on the phone or face-to-face, you’ve got written, everybody can text and message a private message, now send emails. When you’re writing, you get a maybe a different type of communication going on, and there may be nuances that are interpreted or not there or whatever. Writing something down has pros and cons. And people’s ability to communicate how they really feel what’s really going on. Their skillset can vary, there’s body language also. And that’s another important part. You may not have that when you’re writing or even when you’re talking to somebody on the phone. Somebody may be stamping her foot. She may be crossing her arms. She may be extremely upset and I don’t necessarily see that or hear at our pickup on it. So that’s an important part of the whole communication piece. Then there’s the denial and avoidance. I was really good at that. Nothing’s going on here? They’re fine. We’re fine. I don’t want to mess with that. Just status quo. Leave it alone, it’ll be fine. Not so. So you have to deal with somebody who’s not dealing. Another area of conflict. That’s really a big deal. When you have aging, parents is the money piece. At some point your parents, especially if they have cognitive issues, they may not be handling their finances. And things are going to start showing up like the bills, not getting paid. There’s going to be issues. There are horrible scams, as you know, Rayna, targeted towards the elderly. You may find yourself in the middle of something like that. That’s a transition that’s very difficult, very delicate, very controversial. Who’s going to manage the money? When and how? What kind of accountability measures are going to be in place. That’s a big potential area of conflict as well as you get towards the latter end of their life and beyond the question of the stuff comes on. You may be talking with your parents about, you know, what about that special necklace that you have? What about dad’s car that he was fixing up? You may have those conversations now. You may not have those conversations. Some of the siblings may have them and not communicate with the others. That was the bugaboo for me. That was where there were some real issues, that happened because there was not a communal effort to address the issue of the staff. What’s happening at your home, your own home. You’ve got maybe a spouse. You’ve got your own children. You’ve got your job. You’ve got in-laws. There’s a lot of other pieces to the puzzle besides what’s happening with me and this sister and that brother. So there’s a whole lot of bodies involved in the decision-making process. And what’s happening behind the scenes. When I have a conversation with my sister, I may have just had a fight with my husband about my being gone so much, so that can affect how the decisions are getting made and how smoothly they’re getting made as well. Another issue that’s that really shows up in terms of conflict is I call it crazy grief. And it’s just over the top emotional reactions that are anticipatory. You haven’t lost anybody yet so why on earth would you be grieving? They’re still there. Well, you’re anticipating grief whether I deny it or not. I know my parents are going to be moving on and probably fairly soon. Whether I want to deal with that or not. It is occurring in my heart and it’s going to affect a lot of how I interact with my siblings, as well as my parents. I may go completely berserk because of something really trivial. Maybe they’re in a assisted living facility and one of the helpers there drop the ball and didn’t bring my mom’s meal at the time she was supposed to. I may go completely berserk. That is so inappropriate. But when you are struggling with really, really strong, powerful emotions that you don’t know how to even identify much less deal with. You’re going to have over the top reactions. Those may take place between your siblings as well, and it’s disproportionate to the situation, but it’s because everything is just tempered with that grief component that puts it on steroids. Your parents are grieving as well. So they’re, they’re looking at loss of independence. We’re looking at the loss of the relationship with them as it once was. We may be looking at dementia situations, the loss of the loved one as we knew him or her. Loss of their friendships, job, health, home handwriting, feeding the birds, driving, walking around ultimately loss of life. Those are situations and scenarios that are very real and very relevant, whether we’re looking at them or not. And we’re probably not looking at them directly, but they’re impacting our communications with each other. We may be feeling kind of numb. We may get kind of jittery and agitated. We may be extremely tired if you’ve been caring for your parents for weeks, months, even years that takes its toll. So a lot of emotional interplay with our relationships, with our siblings and family as well. Those are just a pretty good overview of some of the reasons why this season is so fraught with potential for conflict.
So many things and it’s all layered in together. That’s what becomes, I think, difficult to navigate is the fact that we don’t even realize that all of these other things are going on with ourselves, much less acknowledging that they’re going on with all the other people we’re trying to work together as a team. So there are all of these things going on and we can’t control anything outside of ourselves. Even controlling ourselves can be a challenge, right? We definitely can’t make, know, mom or dad deal with what’s happening to them and the grief that they’re feeling. We can’t impact our siblings necessarily and make them face the things that are causing the conflict. So what can we do? What are some tips or skills that you feel like families can have in order to manage their friction a little bit better in this season?
Well, the main thing is communication. As I mentioned, that’s a piece that may be in place or may not be in place, but it’s definitely impacted by the pressure cooker of we siblings, our entire extended family, dealing with this really, really challenging situation without any skills or background necessarily. So being deliberate, I think in our communications is really important. You don’t have a lot of anticipatory elements going on, but you can be aware, okay. I have to be super sensitive to how I’m communicating, what they’re communicating and just basic skills like, wow. She really hurt my feelings when she said that about dad, I couldn’t believe. How on earth could she feel that way? Well, let’s add. It’s very important to do the feedback and clarify, don’t assume that you understood what they meant or where they were coming from. They may have just had a difficult situation at home that they brought into the conversation. They may have some associations with mom or dad way, way in the past that are coming to the forefront now. So checking back what did you mean? How did you feel about that? I thought what I heard was this, is that what you intended? Or just checking that kind of verbal communication is huge. Body language is huge. If you have the opportunity to be either on video or in person with somebody you can sort of tell a lot about how they’re feeling, what they’re actually saying by their body language and their posture. So being aware of that and checking in on that. And trying to understand how you feel, understand how they feel and come to a commonplace for that. Written languages is actually super helpful at this time. What we did, there were five of us siblings. We had a lot of emails going back and forth and there are different modalities now, even than there were five, six years ago, but appointing a gatekeeper is very, very helpful for communications. So that you have one person that’s getting all the information, preferably somebody that’s boots on the ground right there, and they can get the information about medical situations and send it out, disseminate it to everybody. They’re all reading the same information at the same time. So there’s less opportunity for confusion. Address the difficult subjects up front don’t avoid, that’s a big one. It’s really easy to just not talk about funeral plans. You don’t want to talk about that. You don’t want to talk about inheritance issues. Really a good idea if you’ve been do so sensitively and together, rather than putting it off, something that you know, is going to be there.
It helps too, to be able to have your parent in, on those conversations.
that we can hear it from them versus Joey said, moms said,
Right, right. One of my thoughts was pray together when it’s appropriate and you can, if you have that relationship with your siblings. Have a family meeting. If you can, a physical one or a virtual one. then my last thought was giving the parents the last word whenever possible. As you said, Rayna, that’s, it’s their life. And far be it for me to take away from them the autonomy and the power and control that is rightfully theirs. So we, as a family need to keep that in line and have that be primary. I have a few examples of things to do and not do, do we have time to share those? Okay. On the gatekeeper piece, one way of handling inheritance, inheritance treasures, that sort of thing. It really helped, I had one sister that went through the house with my mom’s permission when they were still there took pictures of a lot of the things that might important to each of us. She was an artist, so there was statues and paintings. She sent it out to everybody and proactively actually. What’s important to you? And everybody said that their answers to her, not to everybody, but just to her. And that way she was able to parse out and prevent some conflict there
at the same thing, she was able to address that individually and help them to navigate that
That’s a great idea. And to have your mom a part of that too, I think
was really helpful.
that one was really helpful. My, my friend Larry, he’s one of five siblings as well. He had a family meeting. He flew out, got with his sisters. They sat down, mom is still doing okay-ish, but she’s obviously gonna need some care. Who’s going to do what? Who’s going to pay for what? Let’s figure this out. Love that, Larry was so proactive and that’s, that’s a big do on the do and don’t do lists do that. If you have a difficult sibling, somebody has alcohol problems, they are unemployed they’re derailed. They’re they’re a wreck. Do you exclude them or do you not? It’s a sensitive question, but the answer is you can’t exclude them completely. You can exclude them from certain situations, but they have to be a part of this process. It’s their mom and dad. Don’t divide into teams. I did have another friend who had, there were two siblings that were on the same page, another two that were off the rails completely. There was huge conflict there. Whatever you can do to build bridges is super helpful and not to divide us versus them. Entertain creative problem, solving ideas. Love this one. My friend Julie said her mom was, you know, in the latter part of her life. She had a singer from their church come over to where mom was in hospice and sing the song that they had requested to be performed at her funeral for her in advance. She got to enjoy that beautiful music that was important and special to her before she passed. That was a great creative idea. Your siblings may have creative ideas as well. Don’t be resistant. Look for opportunities to do things that works for your familly. Self care is huge. Do, that’s big on the do list? Take care of yourself. If you’re running ragged, if you allow your emotions to just go completely berserk, then you’re not going to be helpful to anybody in your conversations are going to be not productive as well. Engage professionals. Rayna, has a wonderful book. She’s also available to help counsel people that are in this situation. There are professionals through the medical care system. Take advantage of those resources, you’re going to need them. You don’t know what you’re doing and there are people that do, so it’s really important to engage and take their advice. Humor. It’s okay to laugh. Laugh when you can laugh with your parents, laugh with each other when you can it’s it’s not inappropriate. Yeah, it’s a dark season. It’s a sad season. It’s challenging season, but there’s really funny stuff sometimes. And it’s okay. Don’t pass up a hug. If there’s an opportunity to hug each other, to hug your parents, to go home and hug your dog or your spouse or your kid, do it. We need those, those touches, those are wonderful. Capture memories. Do it now, if you can, while your parents are living in, are able to communicate. That’s a regret that I have. I did not capture. However your siblings are doing it maybe we can do it as a team. Maybe we do it individually, but that’s something that may be important. And it’s good to address that now. The other one would just be allow grace tons and tons of grace. For differences in handling emotion, for job, like who’s handling the medical, who’s handling financial. When the out-of-towners come in, are they gonna, try to take over. Just know that everybody has their different strengths and weaknesses. Those are even going to fluctuate. But to just allow grace for yourself, you’re not going to do it perfectly neither are they. But we can do it together and we can do it with love and grace.
So important, grace abounds, everywhere. You have to have grace throughout the whole season,
for yourself and for them, for sure. Beautiful point. Those are some great do’s and don’ts, and I know that our listeners are really to be able to pick up on those and think about it. Again, this is a topic we often bring up in that we don’t want to think about the end, the end is coming for everyone. And even. But what’s so great about the things that you shared. Leslie, it’s not just about the end it’s about being prepared. So talking early talking often and talking now is so important that no matter where you are in your caregiving season, building those relationships so that you can look back on your season and have stronger relationships after it versus regrets. I love that you are putting together a book to put some of these stories together and some things on paper for people. Thank you for your wisdom today. It’s been great to hear just how the things that you’ve accumulated that have been really important, looking back, realizing lessons that you’ve learned and then offering those things to others.
Well, thank you. It’s been a pleasure. I love what you’re doing as well.
You can learn more about Leslie at her website at www.lamcleod.com. She is a beautiful artist and has a newsletter ,you might want to sign up to stay in touch about when her book will be available. Thank you again for listening. A Season of Caring Podcast is created for the encouragement of family caregivers. If you have medical, financial, or legal questions, please consult your local professionals and take heart in your season of caring.
Writer and Artist
Leslie McLeod is a writer, artist, mom, and co-owner of a tech company with her husband. She has a passion for building up relationships, especially among families with aging parents. She and her siblings rallied together several years ago to care for both their mother and father simultaneously. They handled some things well and others not so well, with repercussions that took years to resolve. Based on her experience, she is writing a book to help families survive their season of caring without the added burden of preventable relationship damage. Working title: “Caring for Mom, Together: Navigate Family Drama and Keep the Peace in Your Parent’s Season of Need”. Leslie has interviewed dozens of men and women, offering their stories along with her own to help fellow caregivers know that they aren’t alone and giving them tools to traverse the sometimes-turbulent waters of this journey with compassion and grace.
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