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Blended Families — The Importance of Cooperative Decision-Making

Recently at a celebration of a friend’s 50th birthday, I was surprised to learn that three of us at the gathering were in blended families and are experiencing tension related to family decision-making.

Specifically, 10 per cent of us in the room had aging parents in second marriages, forcing a need for collaborative decision-making between adult kids and step kids. This, we agreed, can be tricky business.

We also surmised that this business of merged family decision-making is on the rise, since a 2011 survey by Statistic Canada found that 43 per cent of marriages in Canada end in divorce. The agency stopped tracking marriage stats six years ago, and there are no real numbers on second or third marriages, but based on the trend, stepfamilies are now commonplace.

Most of us agreed that while there can be many challenges around cooperation in any family striving to meet the needs of aging parents, it is especially challenging when there are two sets of kids trying to reach agreement on issues pertaining to their parents. In fact, in some instances it can become a tug-of-war that puts seniors in emotional peril.

I sought out some advice on this topic and found that the main points that tend to get ‘sticky’ in the aging parent / blended family scenario are: Living arrangements for aging parents, end of life decisions, and estate planning. This article looks at some of these points:

A social worker I chatted with who has spent the past 15 years working with families in a hospice environment had this advice on all things related to family decision-making tensions:

  • Listen carefully to the expressed desires and wishes of the aging couple.
  • Make a decision to set aside personal agendas and focus on the points that are most important to them. For instance, do they wish to stay independent as long as possible? Are they indicating they need assistance and a more secure living environment now? Do they fear being separated if they go into a senior’s facility?
  • Meet with invested family members from both sides and invite everyone’s input on solutions that might best serve the couple.
  • Put all the realistic options on the table (taking into account health, finances and safety) and present them to the parents.
  • Reign in personal biases; an us against them mentality causes destructive divisiveness and ultimately serves no one’s best interest.
  • Treat each senior with the same kindness and cooperation you hope to experience with your loved ones when you are old.
  • And remember, love brought these two people together and they are counting on your love to sustain them and help them navigate the challenging passage ahead.

 

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