Family Dynamics and Caregiving

Here’s a tool for your toolbox.

I’ve mentioned previously that often the adult bi-polar parent is down to one caregiver — you. Why? Because everyone else has figured out that the ‘pleasure of his company’ is not worth it. That doesn’t mean that siblings and other relations won’t periodically swan in with directives, demands and decisions. Of course, what’s actually going on here is that they’re overcompensating. They’re pretending to themselves that they’re doing their duty and participating in care. From our perspective, it comes in as a barrage of unsolicited demands from someone who is implying we have a duty to report to someone who has no stake in the game or any idea what’s going on.

  • Maxim: Relations who are not doing the caregiving have opinions, not input.

If you get a heap of advice coming at you from out if the blue, copy and paste this video link into an  e-mail. To summarize, the family member who suddenly submits you to a heap of instructions like a Commisar can safely be told ‘Thank you for your input, but since I’m doing all of the work and you’re not, I’ll do it in order that best fits the schedule.’

Note the verbal judo there: ‘the schedule’ tells the person that things are underway that she or he doesn’t know about.

Watch out for phrases including ‘But she’s my mother too’ or ‘You’re not the only one in the family’ or ‘You’re not keeping me informed.’None of these phrases actually demonstrate a duty on your behalf to someone who shows up periodically to throw non-existent weight around.

If they person begins to throw a temper tantrum, keep in mind that what may actually be going on here is that the person is not really involved, feels guilty and wants to — perhaps for status reasons, ethical reasons or social reasons — look like he’s involved. The former is easier because you can convert them into useful labour. If they’re just showing up to boost their own egos in private conversation with you, or to build their own social capital by giving you grief in front of others, then all that is needed is one second of bravery to shut them down.


  • If it’s guilt, honest blundering or insecurity – Give that person a specific but non medical task to do like taking the bi-polar parent to the barber or hairdresser, shopping or out to lunch. It’s not critical path stuff requiring long term commitment.
  • If it’s guile, status related or other nonsense – Pull the person to one side and ask questions like ‘Name any of her physicians,’ or ‘List her medications,’ or ‘Remind me what her last three medical appointments were,’ ‘Name her favourite nurse,’  or ‘When was her last pedicure’? This’ll shut ’em up.
    Asking those three questions in front of the family is the nuclear option. There is no need for you to escalate. Be mild at first and say that ‘I’m just respecting your track record: you’re not involved and have no interest.’ However, if the fool doubles down because he wants to score points in front of someone else, feel free to push the big red button with my blessing. You have enough faeces flung at you from your bi-polar parent, there’s no reason to also get it from your unhelpful relations.

The Pleasure of His Company – 1961

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