Caring for a Spouse and Navigating Adult Children’s Demands, Author: Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph. D.

Managing the input of grown children can be difficult while caring for a spouse.


  • Caring for a sick spouse is a multifaceted and emotionally charged responsibility.
  • Emotions play a significant role in spousal caregiving, as caregivers are coping with substantial stress.
  • Open communication is crucial in managing conflicts arising from adult children’s opinions on caregiving.

My client Linda cried to me in session, “I am so caught in the middle. Kevin and Sue, my two adult children, keep trying to ‘help’ me manage their dad, my husband, Don. Don has early stages of dementia and we are all so scared. But my kids don’t get how much they are pressuring me when I am already at my wit’s end.”

Caring for a sick spouse is a challenging journey, one that often involves navigating through a sea of emotions and potential conflicts, particularly with adult children who want to offer their input. While their intentions may be well-meaning, the day-to-day realities of caregiving create a unique set of challenges that only those intimately involved in the situation can truly understand.

Linda mentioned above, is one example of how parent caregivers struggle with a plethora of adult children who, despite their genuine concern, can inadvertently cause stress and tension to their parent who is the primary caregiver. This post explores the dynamics of caregiving within a spousal relationship and offers insights into how family caregivers can manage conflicts with adult children who may be overly eager to provide advice.

The Complexity of Spousal Caregiving

Taking care of a sick spouse is a complex and emotionally charged responsibility. The caregiver often juggles various tasks, from managing medical appointments to providing emotional support. Amid these challenges, adult children may feel the need to step in and share their perspectives, offering suggestions on how caregiving should unfold. While their intentions may be rooted in love and concern, the reality is that adult children might not fully grasp the daily intricacies and emotional toll of the caregiving role.

Understanding Emotional Dynamics

Emotions can run high when caring for a sick spouse, and the caregiver is already dealing with considerable stress. The involvement of adult children can bring additional emotional complexities. The caregiver may experience a sense of guilt or frustration, feeling torn between fulfilling their role as a caregiver and managing the expectations of their grown children. It’s crucial for all parties involved to recognize and appreciate the emotional challenges faced by each other.

Communication Is Key

Real and clear communication is vital when dealing with conflicts arising from differing opinions on caregiving. Adult children need to understand the unique dynamics of the caregiving relationship and acknowledge that their insights might not always align with the practical realities faced by the primary caregiver. Parents can use a calm, firm, and non-controlling approach to have open and honest communication with their adult children.

Caregivers can emotionally support themselves by expressing their feelings, concerns, and the reasons behind their caregiving decisions. This two-way communication can foster a better understanding between all family members involved.

Establishing Boundaries

Setting clear boundaries is essential in maintaining a healthy caregiver-adult-child relationship. Caregivers should assert themselves when necessary and communicate their need for reasonable autonomy in decision-making.

I helped Linda see that this doesn’t mean shutting out her adult children entirely, but rather ensuring that their involvement complements the caregiving process rather than adding unnecessary stress. I also helped Linda convey to her children that respectful boundaries can help prevent conflicts and maintain a balance between receiving support and maintaining control over caregiving responsibilities.

Empowering Caregivers to Seek Help

The added stress of conflicts with adult children can make family caregivers hesitant to seek help when needed. Feelings of disrespect or being undermined may lead caregivers to isolate themselves, fearing further judgment or interference. In working with Linda, I empowered her to help Kevin and Sue recognize this potential barrier can arise if Linda feels overwhelmed. In short, Linda’s example further highlights how a collaborative, united front that acknowledges the caregiver’s challenges and expresses gratitude for their efforts can go a long way in fostering a supportive environment.

Encouraging Empathy and Perspective

Adult children can benefit from actively putting themselves in the shoes of the primary caregiver. This involves considering the emotional toll, the time commitment, and the physical and mental strain involved in caring for a sick spouse. Empathy can bridge the gap between differing opinions and pave the way for more constructive conversations. By acknowledging the challenges faced by the caregiver, adult children can approach the situation with a more supportive and understanding mindset.


Caring for a sick spouse is a challenging journey that demands resilience and compassion. Understanding and sharing feelings between caregivers and adult children can serve as a connection that spans the differences in opinions, laying the groundwork for more productive and positive discussions.

© Jeffrey Bernstein, Ph.D. (All rights reserved), Blog posted by permission of author 1/29/2024


Gerber, Z., Anaki, D. The Role of Self-compassion, Concern for Others, and Basic Psychological Needs in the Reduction of Caregiving BurnoutMindfulness 12, 741–750 (2021).