Family Conflicts When a Parent has a Stroke

Coping When a Family Member Has a Stroke

A stroke can occur at any age, but more often occurs after the age of 55. A stroke has the most significant impact on the stroke survivor, but it also has an effect on his or her family.

Stroke survivors who live with a healthy spouse are usually primarily cared for by the spouse, especially if the spouse is in reasonably good health. 

The ideal family?

Adult children of stroke survivors may feel a mix of emotions when a parent suffers from a stroke.

In the ideal family, siblings cooperate to take care of their loving parent, providing care and support, as well as time and practical help. The family responds to the stressful situation by growing closer and even helping the stroke survivor recover by providing a nurturing environment. Scientific studies have shown that an environment consisting of strong family and social connections combined with low stress is helpful for stroke recovery. 

The real family

When families do not fall into such perfect patterns, however, a great deal of guilt can develop. Often, grown offspring are busy, have personal, family or work problems, suffer from financial constraints or live far away. Sometimes adult children of stroke survivors do not like spending time with parents or siblings due to long standing interpersonal differences or unpleasant memories related to marital problems, divorce, remarriage, or parental stress that may have distracted the parents during the adult child's formative years.

Siblings may have problems getting along with each other stemming from parental favoritism, step sibling rivalry or different perceptions of past experiences. Parental disapproval of lifestyle choices, marriage and serious relationships or life decisions can cause a strain that many adults cope with by avoidance.

But a stroke can change that. Generally unexpected and unwelcome, a stroke changes the life of the stroke survivor. The stroke survivor’s disability often results in increased practical needs or financial needs that may call for closer interaction than some families feel comfortable with. Avoidance as a method of coping with familial interpersonal discomfort may no longer serve to appease unpleasant feelings once a stroke hits.

How should a family that does not get along work together after a stroke?

  1. Recognize that you can more easily trigger conflict than foster peace. It is amazingly easy to upset people, pit people against each other and cause others to doubt each other’s intentions. Don’t be discouraged if your positive efforts do not produce quick results. It takes a short time for distrust and bad feelings to develop and a long time for trust and positive feelings to cancel out the negative.
  2. Do not expect extreme change because you often cannot decipher the root of conflict. Often, family conflicts stem from family members fighting each other’s battles. For example, relatives may favor the adult offspring who always seemed to face more difficulties as a way to level the playing field. While favoritism does not actually help a sibling who was not as smart, or good looking or athletic, people often behave in ways that do not necessarily follow logic. Family members who are timid and are afraid to speak up about small disagreements may quietly cause problems between others by planting animosity. By causing disagreements between others, passive aggressive people may essentially get others to ‘fight’ for them without having to actually take a stand. In other words, you might never figure out why people do not get along. There is no need for detective work, just cooperation.
  1. Spell out responsibilities. There is a difference between responsibilities and spending enjoyable time together. Family members will divide responsibilities among each other, not leisure time. If you need help from siblings, or if your parents or siblings ask something from you, be clear about your availability and what you plan on doing. If you cannot do something, be straightforward rather than wishy washy about things so that people can learn to trust your word.
  2. Do not keep score of who is winning at 'life.' Do not listen if others are keeping score and do not broadcast scores.

A stroke is undoubtedly a stressful event for any family.

It is more stressful for families that already harbor some interpersonal tension. In some cases, a negative event can serve as the incentive to repair damaged relationships. With careful planning, the new family roles that may develop after a stroke can be carried out with overall positive outcomes for family relationships.

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