What NOT to say to a family caregiver

Have you ever heard things as a family caregiver that you thought were outright ridiculous? Have you ever wanted to say something to help a family caregiver but weren’t sure what to say so you said nothing at all?  So often, people don’t know what to say. They have the best intentions and just need a little help and encouragement to be an effective support system for the caregiver.

If you are a family caregiver, you likely have heard many things during your journey that increase your blood pressure, make you shake your head or make you feel downright angry.  Being a family caregiver is challenging enough without other people saying things to make you feel worse.  If you know a family caregiver, here are 5 things NOT to say to them and what to say instead:

5th thing NOT to say to a family caregiver

If it’s going to interfere with your life and all your other responsibilities, why not just put your parents in a home?  

You’d be surprised how many times ‘well-meaning’ people say this. Just because something it’s tough doesn’t mean it’s not worth doing. There are so many things to consider when agreeing to take care of a loved one. There are physical, emotional, spiritual and financial considerations.

A lot of people assume that nursing homes or other facilities take care of everything. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Many families can’t afford to put loved ones in a home. Other families want to take care of their parents as long as their needs and capabilities allow for it.

What to say instead:  It must be incredibly difficult to take responsibility for your loved one. There’s a lot to consider. Have you thought about all the options? What can I do for you today?

4th thing NOT to say to a family caregiver

You should… (fill in the blanks).

This is one of the quickest ways to help someone feel resentful and upset. Telling someone else what they should or should not do regarding their loved one is ignorant. We never know what we will actually do until we are in a situation.  It’s also very judgmental to assume that a caregiver has or hasn’t tried what you are saying they ‘should’ do.

What to say instead: You are doing a fabulous job. If you’d like to spend time together brainstorming ideas to help with (insert issue here), I’m happy to help.

3rd thing NOT to say to a family caregiver

You look really tired and worn down. You should get some rest. (There’s that ‘should’ word again)

Really? Way to state the obvious. As if a family caregiver didn’t already know that! Caregivers understand firsthand the effects caregiving has on their well-being. They feel it in the weight they’ve gained or lost. They see it in the bags under their eyes. They hear it in the constant chatter that goes 150 miles per hour in their head.

What to say instead: I can only imagine how difficult it is to manage everything and make time for yourself. I’d like to help. (Then, offer a specific way you can and will help them.) Caregivers are busy enough and often can’t think about how you can help. Anticipate their needs and take initiative to do something that will reduce caregiver stress.

2nd thing NOT to say to a family caregiver

Isn’t taking care of your parents like parenting them? 

First of all, parenting your children is nothing like taking care of parents or other loved ones. Parenting children is the natural order of things and, yes, it can be frustrating at times, family caregiving is a different beast altogether. There are so many emotions involved when taking care of a loved one. The fact that they are adults requiring care means they have a lot of emotions, too.

Family caregivers do their best to treat their parents the dignity and respect they deserve and involve them in their care as best they can. Being their advocate doesn’t mean you are parenting them. Being their advocate means you are their voice and that you are doing what’s best for them.

The relationship dynamic between parent and adult child is much different than the dynamic between a parent raising a child.  You are preparing a child to eventually be independent while taking care of a parent is like helping them be as independent as possible and filling the gaps where needed.

What to say instead:  I appreciate how difficult it must be to balance your parents’ needs for independence yet seeing them change over time.

1st thing NOT to say to a family caregiver

Let me know if you need anything.

On the surface, this seems innocent enough. However, a family caregiver will never let you know if they need something and if they do know what they need, they don’t have time to tell you. Life is too overwhelming with a thousand moving parts. They are stressed out and dealing with a pool of emotions before noon (and that’s not even their emotions).  Saying ‘let me know if you need anything’ is an empty offer.

What to say instead:

I’m going to the store; can I pick up dinner for your family and drop it by? If you don’t live close by, you could schedule a dinner delivery service. Another way you could help is offering to take their kids for a night or weekend or offer to help watch their loved one while they take a much-needed nap or go see a movie.

OPICA offers classes free of charge to help family caregivers and give them self-care tools.  For more information about OPICA’s upcoming classes, click here

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