When Others Criticize Your Caregiving: Dealing with Pickiness, Guilt Trips, and Negativity

Are you working as hard as you can to take care of an older adult? Perhaps you visit their house and perform chores while your own home is neglected? Or maybe you spend every spare minute on the phone, arguing with their insurance company or coordinating their medical care. You might have even begun to notice a decline in your own health[1. “Caregiver Stress and Burnout,” https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/caregiving-stress-and-burnout.htm], skipping necessary appointments so you can bring your loved one to theirs.
And yet, you may find yourself constantly besieged by others who criticize your caregiving. Frequently, the “offenders” are siblings or relatives, usually ones who live far away, or are unable (or unwilling) to assist with caregiving themselves. They may make you feel guilty for not providing enough care, even though you could hardly give more.
It’s a sad fact that the first people to criticize caregiving are sometimes the last to pitch in. Learn how to handle their negativity here.

Don’t Just Stand There—Take Action!

If you continue letting others second-guess your caregiving, you’re unwittingly setting a precedent that allows it to continue. Make a plan of action to nip the negativity in the bud. The following steps can be helpful:
Don’t reply: Surprised? Believe it or not, this is a completely valid response! Not every comment or criticism on your caretaking skills needs (or deserves) an answer. Sometimes it does pay to give a quick “Thank you for your input; I’ll definitely consider that,” (whether or not you actually plan to). This doesn’t lend the other person the impression that you’re giving them the silent treatment, which can be interpreted as hostile. Other times, when they ask (or demand to know) why you’re not replying, a response such as, “I told you I would only accept constructive advice or support, not harsh words and accusations,” may suffice.
Control the confrontation: Maybe the commenter blindsides you with phone calls or face-to-face showdowns. Take the reins by controlling how exchanges will take place. If e-mail or texting works better for you, only reply (and accept replies) by those methods. This strategy has two benefits: it establishes you as the one giving direction to the caregiving, while at the same time doing so in a manner that lets you function best.
Keep the message focused: It’s all-too-easy to get caught up in the emotions of the situation, but you need to reign in this tendency. If you reply when you’re upset or angry, you’ll respond to the wrong things and your message will get lost. Keep the message focused by waiting until you’re calmer and can think through exactly what you want to say—and how.
Be specific: If you and your criticizers are willing to have an exchange of ideas, make the topics specific. Remember: you both have the same goal, which is to provide the best possible caregiving for your loved one. Of course, you may each differ in how you approach this goal. Offer detailed suggestions about their plans and have your criticizer do the same. If each doesn’t like the other’s plan, ask them how they would modify it. This will make it easier to reach a compromise that both of you can live with.

Don’t Put Up with Others Criticizing Your Caregiving

If you and your loved one’s physicians feel you are doing the best caregiving job possible, don’t let others belittle your efforts. Taking their negativity to heart will only make it harder for you to perform your role adequately. Above all, remember, that you are only human—you won’t be able to do it all.[2. “Limitations to caregiving,” https://eldercarenet.org/information/family/caregiver_limits.html] If some of their comments seem to ring true, it may be because they are, and that’s okay! As long as your loved one’s major needs are being met, let others know they’re welcome to provide additional support. Otherwise, they can back off and leave the caregiving to those who do it best!
If you are unsure of how to best help an aging loved one, the trained and compassionate staff at the Institute on Aging is here to help you make that decision and gain the best in at-home care for older adults. Contact us to find out more.

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