Caregiving can be a difficult topic to talk about—especially if you’ve never been a caregiver.
This means that even the most well-meaning friends and family members may find themselves grasping for the right words to express their concern for a caregiver. Unfortunately, this often results in an, “open mouth, insert foot,” situation that can leave a caregiver fuming.
How should you respond when someone spouts off a smack-worthy statement about your life as a caregiver?
Cindy Laverty, caregiver coach, radio talk show host, and author of, “Caregiving: Eldercare Made Clear and Simple,” offers her advice on how caregivers can respond positively to some frustratingly common comments:
1. Comment: “Why are you having such a hard time being a caregiver?”
Caregiver response: “If you’d walked a mile in my shoes, then maybe you would understand. You haven’t had to do this yet, but I will definitely be there to support your if you ever do have to discover how hard being a caregiver is.” Depending on your relationship to the person who said the comment, you may or may not feel comfortable expanding on the particular difficulties you’re facing.
2. Comment: “We haven’t seen you in such a long time. Why don’t you get out more?”
Caregiver response: “I’m having trouble finding time for myself because I spend so much time taking care of my mother. I would be willing to accept any help you could give me as I search for support and respite care resources.” The person making this comment may want to help, but probably doesn’t know how to, or whether you would accept their help. Laverty says that letting someone know you would accept their assistance can encourage them to reach out.
3. Comment: “You look really tired. Are you making sure to take care of yourself?”
Caregiver response: “No, I’m not taking care myself like I should be.” Though it may be difficult, Laverty suggests trying not to take these comments too personally. The person saying this is probably just trying to express their concern for you.
4. Comment: Caregiving seems like a burden. You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your life for your mother’s.
Caregiver response: “I appreciate your concern, but I don’t think you understand why I’m doing this. If you have the time, I would love to try and explain it to you.” According to Laverty, if a caregiver wants people to understand what they’re going through, they should explain it to them in a calmly candid way. If you constantly feel like your friends and family “just don’t get it,” consider taking the time to describe your situation to them.
5. Comment: “You need to get a ‘real’ life.”
Caregiver response: “I’d love to get on with my life—but I’m not sure how to do it. As my friend, would you be willing to sit down and help me figure out how I might be able to do this?” An offensive comment can be present a caregiver with a hidden opportunity to ask for help, according to Laverty. “Caregivers need to be far more proactive in their approach to things—less of a victim. No one is going to be ready to help you unless you help yourself,” she says.
6. Comment: “Why don’t you just put you mother in a nursing home? It would be better for everyone.”
Caregiver response: “I can see how that option might appear to be the solution, but I’m afraid you may not know all of the facts of the situation.” (See explanation for number 4)
7. Comment: “Why do you visit your dad so much? He doesn’t even know you.” Caregiver response: “As long as I know who he is, that’s all that matters. People need love and nurturing human contact, no matter what ailments they have.” Laverty points out that not much is known about what people with Alzheimer’s and other types of dementia are aware of. So a caregiver should never feel foolish for visiting a loved one who doesn’t remember who they are.
8. Comment: “Don’t feel guilty about…”
Caregiver response: “It may seem irrational to you, but part of the reason I feel guilty is that I desperately want to fix what’s wrong in my loved one’s life. I know I can’t fix everything, but that doesn’t mean I don’t want to.” (See explanation for number 4)
9. Comment: “Let’s not talk about that. Let’s talk about something happy and fun.”
Caregiver response: “I really need to talk to someone about this. Do you mind if we discuss it first—and then go and do something fun?” Laverty says that caregivers need to do a better job of letting their friends and family know that sometimes they need to talk about the difficult things.
10. Comment: “You must be so relieved that it’s over.”
Caregiver response: “Yes, I am,” or “No, I’m not.” You’re allowed to (and probably should) be honest, according to Laverty. And you don’t have to justify them to anyone.
11. Comment: “When are you going to get over it (a senior’s death) and move on?”
Caregiver response: “Caring for my loved one has been my whole world for the past (insert time). I am going to need some time and space to figure out where my life goes from here.”