Developing cooperative relationships in caregiving

by | January 28, 2014

Caregiving can’t be done alone and will need family members involved. However, having a cooperative relationship amongst the family can be hard.

BY: Priyanka Awasthi

Every family is unique and so is the way in which they react to a given situation. For instance, in close-knit families, it is common for members to rally together in times of crisis or difficulty and provide the physical, emotional or financial support needed for caregiving. Other families may not enjoy such closeness. In some of these cases, relationships between members can be distant or strained. In such situations, help for the caregiver is likely to be minimal or grudgingly given, when requested by the primary caregiver.


One can’t handle it on his own

As the main and primary caregiver, it is very natural for you to feel responsible for looking after your loved one. However, sometimes you may not be able to handle the situation alone. This can happen when your loved one’s condition deteriorates or when you have other pressing issues that also need your immediate attention.

Yet you hesitate to ask for help, because you feel guilty for not being able to manage it alone, or worry that seeking help from other family members may lead to arguments among members. An example, 55-year-old Elaine Lim, who is looking after her elderly mother said: “I can never ask for help. My mother is my responsibility. If my brothers can help – good, if they don’t want to, it’s the choice they make”.

For those of us in a caregiving situation, let’s ponder for a moment about – what factors help to make the family caregiving relationship positive or negative?

Making one’s own decision without involving the person concerned, disregarding suggestions by other family members and sticking to your own opinion, and being critical about others – these are some behaviours that make for uncooperative caregiving relationships. Another example, Candice Tan (name changed) said: “My brother wants to make all the decisions for my mother who is 95 years old and bedridden. I know my mother hates the tube feeding but he insists that he knows best since he is in the healthcare sector and considers all of us naïve”.

Some of the elements that could be helpful in building a good relationship within the family are effective communication, mutual respect, trust and understanding each other’s points of view. You know your family best. As a caregiver, be realistic about how ‘much’ other family members can or are willing to help.


Type of relationships

It’s all or nothing – also called competitive relationships – The competitive urge destroys the relationships in caregiving. One feels that everything is about being in control and being right where  nothing else matters. Caregivers should be wary of people in such competitive relationships who  always look to retain the upper hand, dismissing offers of  support.

In this example – Julie Ng, 52, looks after her 78-year-old mother with dementia: “I sometimes feel that my sister just wants to score with my parents as the ‘filial one’ that is why she is into caregiving. Actually all she does is hire the maid and I take care of all the decisions about the food she eats, her daily schedule and medical appointments”.

Talk when needed only – called independent relationships – involve little interaction, only purposeful collaboration or support. For example, 56-year-old John Lee (name changed), who is taking care of his parents and with little support from his sister, shared: “When my sister needed a babysitter for her three kids when they were young, she was the first one to seek help from our parents. Now that our parents are older and her kids are all grown-up, she and her kids should help our parents more. But it is difficult to get her buy-in to help us more. I feel paiseh to ask again and again”.

All for you – what is called cooperative relationships – these are when the people involved are committed to collaborating and resolving conflicts. There is also genuine interest in each other’s well-being.


Tips towards a cooperative relationship

It sometimes may not be easy to have a cooperative relationship. However, here are some tips to get you started:

1) Make decisions as a family – this could help reduce criticism about choices regarding care. When done positively, it can strengthen the entire family and improve the quality of care for your loved one.

2) Keep your family members, including those who are far away, informed of any changes in your loved one’s care. This can be done in a planned weekly call, meeting or e-mail. Also, find ways where everyone can contribute.

3) If some family members become critical of your care decisions, understand the source of their criticism. This will help you not to personalise their comments.

Getting the support you need in your caregiving journey is critical in helping you to get through the journey without burning out. Your relationship with your support network is very important to nurture, strengthen and maintain.

Caregivers in cooperative relationships strive to build strong mutually respectful and supportive relationships with their caregiving team, which includes the family, friends, healthcare professionals, care recipient, community and domestic helpers. The relationship between family and professional caregivers is often pivotal in ensuring appropriate, effective care for the care receiver – our loved one.

Having built a set of strong cooperative relationships, you will sleep better knowing that each time you need to press the button in the future, you can rely on members of the team to respond positively.  


Priyanka Awasthi is a social worker with AWWA Centre for Caregivers. The Centre offers the Caregiving Life Skills Training Series held at Agency for Integrated Care @ City Square Mall. “Developing Cooperative Relationships in Family Caregiving” is one of the seven workshops in the series. For more information click here.

(** PHOTOS: AWWA Centre for Caregivers)


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