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Stepfamilies face struggles when caring for ailing family members

Stepfamilies are becoming more and more common in Colorado and across the United States. Forty-five percent of marriages currently end in divorce, and 60 percent of men get remarried. This means that four out of every 10 Americans have one or more step-relatives. Many stepfamilies get along well, but there are a multitude of tensions that can arise when a parent remarries. One of the most difficult situations that a stepfamily can face involves a step-relative becoming part of a caregiving team for an elderly or sick family member.

A specific case of this type involved a 75-year-old woman whose husband suffered a stroke. She married the man 10 years after he divorced his first wife, and the man's children supported the marriage. However, even though the stroke occurred 15 years after the couple was married, the children began to challenge their stepmother's medical decisions regarding their father's health. The children began to go behind the woman's back to talk to their father's doctors and even accused the mother of giving up on their father.

In general, the lack of a shared family history can contribute to the small level of support that stepchildren give to their stepparents when they begin caring for their spouse's ailments later in life. Some steps can be taken to prevent situations like these, however. Calling a family meeting where an open and honest conversation can take place is the first step. This allows the stepparent and the stepchildren to address all of their concerns while reminding each other that they will be an important part of the recovery process.

A medical power of attorney can also be established. This means that a specific person in the family would legally be making decisions for the sick family member, and the other members of the family would have to accede to the legal agreement - even if they're not happy about it. A third strategy involves recruiting step family members to help with the care themselves. A stepparent that's taking care of their spouse may mend their relationship with their stepchildren if they're all working together to care for their loved one.

Source:  aarp.org, "How Caregiving Stepfamilies Can Get Along Better" Barry J. Jacobs, Nov. 15, 2013

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