Caregiving Holiday Tips: 3 Ways to Deal with Difficult Family

deal with difficult family

Holidays can bring out the worst

The holidays can bring out the worst in people. It’s a stressful time that’s full of unreasonable expectations. Difficult or insensitive family members are especially hard to deal with when you’re caring for an older adult and hoping for extra support.

We’ve all struggled with family members who:

  • Don’t invite you or your senior to their holiday gatherings
  • Extend an invitation, but don’t consider your senior’s needs and realistic capabilities
  • Are offended when you explain that your senior can no longer participate in certain family traditions
  • Blame YOU for being difficult or overprotective of your senior



3 tips for dealing with difficult family during the holidays

1. Reset your OWN expectations
These thoughtless people are not likely to change their behavior, so your best option is to adjust your own expectations.

Don’t expect your brother, who hasn’t called all year, to visit mom for the holidays. Stop hoping that your sister, who’s always full of excuses why she can’t help care for dad, will come through in the end and help you prepare Thanksgiving dinner.

Once you accept the fact that they’re not going to change, you can make your own plans without anxiously wondering if a holiday miracle will happen. Removing the uncertainty reduces stress and lets you get on with your holiday season.

2. Reset your SENIOR’S expectations
Despite these uncooperative family members, you still want your older adult to feel the holiday love and togetherness. If holiday plans won’t be what your senior expects, let them know about significant changes, but protect them from getting hurt by fibbing about the reason things will be different.

For example, your sister normally hosts Thanksgiving dinner, but doesn’t want you to bring dad because she can’t handle seeing him in his post-stroke condition. A week or two before the dinner, tell your dad that your sister and family just got a terrible flu. The doctor says they’re highly contagious and have to stay in bed the entire holiday.

So, Thanksgiving at her house has to be cancelled this year. Your dad will be understandably disappointed, but not as upset as he would be if he knew he wasn’t welcome at her table.

3. Exclude toxic individuals
There are certain family members who are mean and nasty, looking for financial handouts, or bring up unpleasant memories for your older adult. The holidays may be a time for togetherness, but these toxic individuals take the joy out of the season.

To protect your senior and yourself, don’t feel guilty about excluding those people from your holiday gathering. If they confront you about being left out, say something like “I’m sorry, but mom isn’t well enough this year for a large group. Maybe we can arrange a visit after the holidays.”


Next Step  Reduce negative reactions and bad behavior by updating family on your senior’s condition ahead of time


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By DailyCaring Editorial Team
Image: Diary of a Smart Chick


  • Reply December 14, 2015

    Jack Hickerson

    Never lie, parents are confused enough as it is.
    Shame on you!

    • Reply December 14, 2015

      Connie Chow

      Hi Jack,

      Thank you for your comment. I can see where you’re coming from and agree that there’s a difference between lying (especially with bad intentions) and telling a fib to protect someone’s feelings.

      Many older adults have chronic issues that can affect how much they can handle emotionally or process cognitively. In these cases, if it does not harm anyone to tell a fib about a sad situation that won’t change, it’s generally recommended to spare them unnecessary pain or sadness. In the case of Alzheimer’s and dementia, that person is likely to not remember the first conversation and will ask the same question over and over again. Telling them the same truthful answer gives them news they can’t cognitively or emotionally process and can cause them to experience deep pain, sadness, and confusion over and over again.

      Every family caregiver has to make their own decision about what’s best for their older adult’s safety, comfort, and happiness. Fibbing is a technique some people choose to use in certain situations.


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