I've had so much support from friends and family through more than 35 years of family caregiving. But every now and then, people have said things that really frustrate and annoy me. So I reached out to other family caregivers and asked if they had phrases that they also wished people would never say to them.
People don't intend to be offensive. They just might not understand caregivers’ perspectives or haven't thought carefully about what they're saying. If you know someone who is a family caregiver, please try to avoid saying these things that are truly not helpful and may be hurtful.
Say this when giving advice
"You're doing a tremendous job! If you have challenges that you're trying to solve, I'd be happy to help you brainstorm and research new approaches if that would be helpful. I don't want to suggest things you've already been doing or have ruled out."
Not that: “You should …” Any sentence that begins with this comment just makes us feel judged and defensive.
When it comes from people who aren't intimately involved in our caregiving situations and often have no idea of the actual needs of our loved ones, it makes caregivers feel resentful. It's particularly frustrating when people assume we don't know something obvious or haven't already tried what they're suggesting.
Say this when comparing situations
"I'm sure managing family caregiving is difficult and would be a challenge in any family.” Be aware that every family and situation is unique.
Not that: "Caregiving would be handled differently in my family."
Really? How do you know that? Is your situation exactly the same? That's simply not possible. We all play different roles in our families, have different abilities, financial situations, illnesses, relationships and strengths.
Unless or until you are in the exact same situation, you cannot really know how you would handle it. This is especially frustrating when the words come from people who have never met our loved ones. Sharing your caregiving challenges and solutions is helpful; judging ours is not.
Say this to an exhausted caregiver
"Let me cook a few meals for you and your dad. What are your favorite foods?” Or “What time next week is good for me to stop by so you can get a few hours away?”
Or “I'm gifting you a massage, and I'll help arrange for care while you relax."
Not that: “You look really tired. You really need to take care of yourself."
Caregivers are aware that they are tired, have gained weight and have health issues. They don't need you to point it out over and over again. Instead say — and do — something that will ease their stress.
Say this about being too busy
"I see that you are rearranging your life and juggling so much to be involved in caregiving. I realize that if I were a caregiver, I would have to rearrange my priorities, too."
Or “I know you are making a lot of changes in your life to care for our mom. I'm going to look at my priorities and step up to the plate to help, too."
Not that: “I just couldn't do what you're doing because my life is too busy.” “I can't help care for her with all my other responsibilities.” Or “You've put your life on hold to be a caregiver.”