The Extra Stress of Caregiving in a Second Marriage

Q. I am a caregiver for my husband of 10 years, Frank, who is 75 and has dementia. As his dementia is worsening, bills are piling up and decisions about long-term care need to be made. I am feeling alone, exhausted, and overwhelmed, and could use some help from my husband’s two adult daughters from his previous marriage. So far, asking them for assistance has been difficult, to say the least. When I call them on the phone, I get a lot of advice but no solutions and no offers of help from either one of them. I even called a family meeting to discuss how to manage things, but no one showed up. Is what I am describing common, and what do you suggest I do?

A. Every year, nearly one million people over the age of 65 marry for the second time, and many become the primary caregivers when his or her spouse develops a geriatric disease or dementia.  In many instances, as in your situation, when they reach out to the spouse’s children from the previous marriage they often find little help. 

In your question, you didn’t mention the relationship your stepdaughters have with their father. Maybe your husband’s children are unwilling to help because they feel anger towards their father as a result of their parent’s divorce.  Maybe your  husband’s children blame you for their family pain, or disagree with decisions you have made concerning his care.  Alternatively, maybe his children are simply focused on raising their own families and building their careers.  Even if your husband’s children want to help, they are often limited in what help they can provide. 

A recent study published in The Journal of Marriage and Family confirms that those who remarry later in life face some unique challenges when dealing with an ailing spouse.  Researchers interviewed 61 women for the study and found cases where adult stepchildren refused to believe a diagnosis of dementia or refused to participate in decision-making about caregiving. Some women had had lawsuits filed against them by their husband’s adult stepchildren, claiming money was being misspent. Generally, these women felt that their stepfamilies created conflict or that their support was minimal or nonexistent.

Dr. Carey Wexler Sherman, one of the researchers who conducted the study, hopes that by shedding some light on the difficulties faced by these caregivers, professionals can help them come up with strategies to get the support they need.  Having gained some insight into the spouse’s point of view, Dr. Sherman hopes to conduct a similar study from the stepchildren’s perspective.

The results were not completely stark, however, and there is hope for you and your stepdaughters. Fifteen women felt that their relationships with their stepfamilies were working. Some even framed the new reality with their husbands as a time of healing between their stepchildren and them, or between the father and his children. Relationships that were once strained between parent and child were often healed during this time of convalescence.  The adult children are able to re-establish familial ties with their parent, while building a stronger relationship with their stepparent.

So, how can you get to a place with your stepdaughters where they are willing to step in and help?

The answer is that you need to find a way to come together and find common ground. It can be done, but sometimes it takes a great deal of effort on all sides.  So, how do you reach those who are at arm’s length?

  • Build the Bridge — Call on the phone and send a personal letter. As long as the topic is focused on their father, it may be possible to gain the communication and assistance of your stepdaughters, depending on the situation. 
  • Peaceful Discussions — Moving their father to a long-term care facility is a taxing prospect and each stepdaughter may have a varying opinion. Neutral third-parties, such as Certified Geriatric Care Managers and Certified Elder Law Attorneys can be especially effective in these cases, able to field concerns and emotional outbursts, to lay out all the details and help point to the most effective solution, both emotionally and financially.  Hopefully you and your husband have already done Estate Planning so that your husband’s wishes are in place, and it’s very important to know whether you and your husband entered into a premarital contract before you got married, which is something that all people should consider when entering into a second or subsequent marriage.

An additional and equally important option for spouses experiencing these issues is to find positive emotional and practical support elsewhere: from friends, professionals, and their own loved ones. Persons with dementia and their families face special legal and financial needs. At The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Dementia Planning Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C., we are dedicated to easing the financial and emotional burden on those suffering from dementia and their loved ones.  If you have a loved one who is suffering from dementia, we can help you prepare for your future financial and long-term care needs.  We help protect the family’s hard-earned assets while maintaining your loved one’s comfort, dignity, and quality of life by ensuring eligibility for critical government benefits. If you have a loved one, such as your husband, who is nearing the need for long-term care, and if you’re done with mediation, or if you’re a family everyone already gets along, please call The Fairfax and Fredericksburg Elder Law Firm of Evan H. Farr, P.C.  at 703-691-1888 in Fairfax or 540-479-1435 to set up an appointment for a consultation.


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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.

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