By: Alexandra Axel, The Caregiver Space
Do you want to give a caregiver in your life a break? Here’s what NOT to do.
When a loved one develops a health problem, typically one family member serves as the primary caregiver, depending on geographic distance from, or relationship to, the patient. In an ideal world, the rest of the family steps in to give the primary caregiver some respite. But sometimes, relatives hoping to help can end up doing more harm then good.
If you want to help the caregiver in your life, try to avoid participating in the following scenarios:
Playing “good cop”
Imagine you’re visiting your sister, your mom’s full-time caregiver, to give her a much-needed break. You’re so excited to see your mom that you let her do whatever she wants even though your sister has been keeping her on a strict schedule, as recommended by the doctor. Your sister returns to find your mother even more resistant to following her care plan. Now you are the child that lets things slide and she is the one always saying no. So much for your sister’s respite! She now has to work even harder to convince your mom to do what is in her best interests.
Being the visiting critic
It’s Thanksgiving and you’re going to your father and step-mom’s house to celebrate. Your step-mom was recently diagnosed with cancer and your father has assumed the position of full time caregiver. You’ve never been a caregiver before but you point out the many things he could be doing better. For one, he should be getting more sleep. He shouldn’t be so short with his wife. He needs to start cooking and not buying frozen dinners. Your dad feels like he is doing everything he can but your unsolicited comments make him feel like it’s still not enough. Consider for a moment that he is probably exhausted, frustrated and stressed out. Instead of pointing out the things he could be doing, help care for him by cooking him a meal, answering your step-mom’s requests, and let him get some sleep.
Thinking you know what is best
One weekend you go to visit your cousin with special needs to give your aunt and uncle a night off. They have been his caregivers for the last twenty years with barely any time to themselves. Without asking what your aunt and uncle need, you arrive with big ideas for what you’ll do to help. You decide that you’re going to take care of installing the ceiling fan, fixing the banister, doing the grocery shop, and wash the stack of dishes in the sink. Your uncle and aunt politely let you work however they were really hoping for a little time to themselves while you looked after your cousin. So much for that 7pm movie!
Now that you know how to avoid the pitfalls that many well-meaning friends and family fall into, consider what you CAN DO! Offer and accept help. Consider creating a community at Lotsa Helping Hands for the caregiver in your life. You can help coordinate meals, organize rides to medical appointments, or simply send out updates on behalf of their family. Caregivers usually have a hard time asking for your help and you’re doing a huge favor by offering your support. Just remember to listen, ask for direction and strive for compassion.