Caregiving in retirement is never easy, but remarriage makes it more difficult.
Multiple marriages strain family ties and stepfamilies are often critical of the care that a stepparent is getting or giving while being unwilling to step in and help, says Carey Wexler Sherman, a researcher studying this issue at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research.
Her study focuses on wives taking care of spouses with Alzheimer's disease -- the Alzheimer's Association funded her project. She determined that remarried spouses don't have the sort of family connections that are often assumed when experts talk about family caregiving. Often both children and stepchildren are ambivalent at best.
"We found that these remarried wives were isolated in their care, and their adult children weren't supportive. Often there were actual conflicts with adult stepchildren about how the money was being spent. They questioned what was happening to their inheritance," Sherman says.
In some cases, the conflicts have escalated to the point where second and third wives were sued by their stepchildren, she reports.
In many families, she says, the conflicts don't have a lot to do with money because the couple doesn't have much. "No matter what, there isn't going to be a big inheritance at the end. It is just the attitude that the remarried wife is getting away with something," she says.
Sherman thinks that as boomers age, this problem is only going to grow. She advises couples in second or third marriages to be especially vigilant about including long-term care in their retirement planning. "Don't assume that the caregiver will get the support and help they need from adult children," she says.