During my caregiving years, my mother and I had many tense moments about rousing her from bed to get ready for medical appointments. I’d pop into her bedroom and wake her, then remind her a few minutes later that she really needed to get up, then cajole her, plead with her, and ultimately use my sternest, I-mean-business tone. I thought I was helping motivate her in those instances. She’d say she felt like I was bullying her.
I never liked being called a bully and denied it was so. After all, we were always in a rush. If I pressured her, I reasoned, then it was for her own good. But in retrospect now, 20 months after her death, I wonder if I was in the right. What really mattered to her during those times? Was she clinging to the comfort of her pillow because she was still tired or even depressed? Was it more important for her to have control over her own life and sleep in than submit to another routine exam with a doctor who couldn’t help her much anyway? Instead, I overruled her and expected her to “obey” me.
I don’t think I’m the only family caregiver to transgress the blurry line between supportive guidance and arm-twisting. Sometimes when tired or frustrated or impatient — or when there really is a situation of dire urgency — many caregivers are prone to pressure care receivers too hard to conform to schedules and regimens. We rationalize the approach we’ve taken on the basis of practicality and expedience. But many of us second-guess ourselves later about whether it was necessary.
Certain things do have to get done. Otherwise, family caregivers might feel that they are guilty of irresponsibility and neglect. But how can we manage to be coaches, not bosses, and effective motivators, not feared bullies? Here are some ideas.