Advice– Wait! Don’t Say THAT!
Advice–Whether You Want It Or Not
Any way you look at it, caregiving is a tough job. It’s definitely not for the faint of heart or someone with tender feelings, especially the sleeve-worn type. Face it, we’re vulnerable. We’re tired, facing emotional issues, and dealing with life and death. Often, friends, family, and acquaintances want to offer helpful advice. They truly care about you. Most of the time they mean well but sometimes their advice either induces caregiver guilt, feelings of inadequacy, or just shows a lack of understanding about what’s involved in caregiving.
How can we best support each other? I think a listening ear, without a lot of advice is probably best. If asked for advice, turn the question back on the asker. For example, if I asked you, “Do you think I’m doing the right thing, taking care of my parents at home?” Instead of answering yes or no, your answer might be, “What do you think? Does it feel like the right thing to you? Is something in particular bothering you now?” That way you’re helping me answer my question and process my problem or the insecurity bothering me.
Usually, advice and well-meaning remarks bounce off me. I’ve made my peace with my choice and believe I’m doing the best I can with my abilities. I have a few regrets, but not many. Occasionally, I have vulnerable periods when a criticism penetrates my armor. Remarks made by those closest to me or someone I really admire, hurt the most. I’m fortunate, though, as our family and friend dynamics are mostly harmonious. I know that isn’t the case for many caregivers.
Sibling dynamics are the hardest, I hear. Since I don’t deal with that, I can’t offer much help, except–I’m sorry. I can see how it happens. Emotions run high and each person’s ideas differ about what’s best for Mom or Dad. Sibling rivalries from younger days raise their ugly heads, and the “Mom always liked you best” thoughts are there, even if unspoken. I know my husband feels bad he was unable to help his brother and sister more with their parents. Below is an article on caregiving and sibling dynamics.
Women’s Work, Apparently Never Done
I’ve also noticed caregiving usually falls on daughters, not sons. I can’t comment on gender stereotyping or duties generally considered male vs female because honestly, I guess I’m just of the generation that accepts it exists, fair or not. It’s not something I control. My generation is certainly better than my parent’s. Here are the statistics.
“Within our complex system of long-term care, women’s caregiving is essential in providing a backbone of support. In fact, the value of the informal care that women provide ranges from $148 billion to $188 billion annually.4 Women provide the majority of informal care to spouses, parents, parents-in-law, friends and neighbors, and they play many roles while caregiving—hands-on health provider, care manager, friend, companion, surrogate decision-maker and advocate.5
Many studies have looked at the role of women and family caregiving. Although not all have addressed gender issues and caregiving specifically, the results are still generalizable to women because they are the majority of informal care providers in this country. Consider:
• An estimated 66% of caregivers are female. [Updated February 2015] 6, 7
• The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman who works outside the home and provides 20 hours per week of unpaid care to her mother. [Updated 2015] 8
• Although men also provide assistance, female caregivers may spend as much as 50% more time providing care than male caregivers.” https://www.caregiver.org/women-and-caregiving-facts-and-figures
So, if you get criticism and you’re female, it might help knowing we do our share and more and yes, it probably isn’t fair.
Division of Labor
In our home, though I give the care, my husband sacrifices as much as I do. He limits his travel, not wanting to leave me alone. He continues working beyond the time he wanted to retire to provide for us. Most nights he does the kitchen clean-up and helps with laundry. If anyone has a servant’s heart, it’s him.
He handles all the financial affairs for both households and has the burden of figuring out how to keep us all afloat. As I’m terrible with managing finances, I’m thankful. I really am a complete disaster. Tell me I have “x” amount of money to spend on groceries and I’m good. That’s the range of my financial abilities. I tried to take over bill paying at one point in our marriage, when my husband was traveling a lot for work. Trying to find that missing seven cents to balance the checkbook drove me mad. It gave him so much pain watching me struggle, he took it back. He’s a numbers guy. I marvel at him making complex calculations in his head. I didn’t get the math gene.
So, back to advice. How should we handle unsolicited advice, or criticism? I think, look past the words, to the intent behind the words. Most people genuinely want to help. They filter their advice through their own experiences and feelings. That doesn’t make it wrong, maybe just not right for your situation and temperament.
Here’s a video with role-play examples about handling unwanted advice. (Sorry there is a word or two in there I wouldn’t use in conversation but it’s still a good example.)
Finally, here’s an article on what not-to-say to a caregiver. Though I bet you’ve probably
already figured it out.
Have a great caregiving week.
Wouldn’t you know, as soon as I’d written this my dad criticized me to the Hospice nurse. Granted, he didn’t think of it as criticism, but in effect, that’s what it was. I’m trying to take my own advice and realize his intention wasn’t to hurt me. I suspect he’s feeling left out because so much attention is given to Mom now. I’m learning it’s easier to write advice, than take it. Gulp. Family dynamics can be a bear. Best wishes for a calm week or in your caregiving world.