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The 5 Worst Things You Can Say To a Family Caregiver

The 5 Worst Things You Can 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?

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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. When I was a family caregiver, I heard all these things and more. 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 the 5 worst things you can say to them and what to say instead:

#5th Thing NOT to Say To a Family Caregiver

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

I can’t tell you how many times ‘well-meaning’ people said this to me. Just because something is 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, such as ours, wanted to take care of our parents as long as their needs and our 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?

Being a family caregiver is challenging enough without other people saying things to make you feel worse. Click To Tweet

#4th Thing NOT to Say To a Family Caregiver

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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

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

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

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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.

I did my best to treat my parents the dignity and respect they deserved and involved them in their care as best I could. 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

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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.

 

#FamilyCaregivers are stressed out and dealing with a pool of emotions before noon (and that's not even their emotions). #NationalCaregiversDay Click To Tweet

What to say instead:

I’d like to help you. 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.

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’d like to learn what to say to someone going through a difficult time (and what NOT to say), click and grab my free Insider’s Guide HERE.

If you'd like to learn what to say to someone going through a difficult time (and what NOT to say), click and grab my free Insider's Guide HERE: www.TandyElisala.com/InsiderGuide/ Click To Tweet

It’s your turn: Have a comment that you’d include on this list? Please comment below.

#NationalCaregiversDay

NEXT STEP: 

If you are a family caregiver, I invite you to join my free closed Empowered Family Caregivers Group where we help you go from stressed out and overwhelmed to empowered and calm.  Click to join HERE.

EmpoweredFamilyCaregiversGroup http://www.facebook.com/groups/empoweredfamilycaregiver/

 

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Tandy Elisala

Founder and Chief Inspiration Officer at Center for Inspiring Greatness
Tandy Elisala is passionate about bringing hope and wholehearted living to people going through cancer and their caregivers. Tandy went through cancer four times and learned how to heal using conventional, complementary, and alternative therapy. She left her 23-year corporate career to take care of both parents simultaneously for 2 ½ years. She now teaches what she learned on her journey and how to thrive during and after cancer using the true sources of health and healing: hope and mindset, spiritual connection, relationships, alignment and mind, body healing. Tandy is a multiple best-selling author, radio show host, mother of three grown kids and her precious dog, Roxy. Learn more about Tandy at www.tandyelisala.com.

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12 replies
  1. Rick Alexander
    Rick Alexander says:

    This is a great and accurate list. The one we would add is “We’re praying for you” Then ending the conversation. We are faithful church goers. It’s not the spiritual aspect at all. It’s just so general. Much in the same league as “Let us know if you need anything.”

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Oh Rick, this is a great addition! I’ll add this for future articles. You are right that “We’re praying for you” is such a general thing. Thanks so much for stopping by and commenting. I appreciate it.

      Reply
  2. Lorii Abela
    Lorii Abela says:

    Thank God I am not in this situation. I can imagine it is rough. I am just thankful my father remarried and he has someone taking care of him. I can see my stepmother is trying to juggle everything. Thanks for these pointers.

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thanks for your comments, Lorii. Knowing your father has his wife to take care of him must definitely bring you peace.

      Reply
  3. Teresa Salhi
    Teresa Salhi says:

    I have heard – let me know if you need anything – many times. And so true, it seems nice enough but not really so helpful, I just didn’t have time to let them know and it did feel rather empty. Sorry to say and may or may not have been the case but your article here can be shed some insight on what can truly be helpful.

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thank you, Teresa. I know I’ve heard this many times as a family caregiver and have said this to others in the past. I’ve realized just how unhelpful it is! I appreciate your comments.

      Reply
  4. Reba Linker
    Reba Linker says:

    Oh my goodness, Tandy, are these no-nos spot on! Telling someone else what they should or should not do is NEVER a good idea. I got so much of it when I ran my dance studio that I’d be happy if I never heard the word ‘should’ again. Of course, it was well-meaning, often offering creative ideas, etc. However, talk is indeed cheap and it’s carrying out all those ideas that takes the energy – dreaming up new ideas is the fun part, as far as I’m concerned! And, of course, as a caregiver, given the stresses, it’s just that much more egregious. As always, you offer wonderful suggestions for what to do instead. I hope people listen!
    Reba Linker recently posted…It’s Not You – It’s What You’re ConsumingMy Profile

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Reba. The “shoulda” thing people say is an immediate turn-off. Thank you for your comments and for sharing. Caregivers everywhere need to know this!

      Reply
  5. Tamuria
    Tamuria says:

    I love that you offered alternatives to offending advice or questions, Tandy. I was especially impressed with the alternatives to ‘”Let me know if you need anything”. You are right. It’s an empty offer that will most likely never be taken up. It’s true that people often don’t know what to say and this advice is really helpful.

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Thanks for your comments, Tamuria. Indeed, specific ways of helping family caregivers is MUCH better than “Let me know if you need anything.”

      Reply
  6. Jackie Harder
    Jackie Harder says:

    Wow…put your parents in a home because it’s an inconvenience? That’s just rude. Some of these things you mention are because people truly don’t know what to do/say and your tips are right on the money. My sister was my mom’s primary caregiver for the five months of Mom’s life and I know Colleen would do it all over again. And yes, it is stressful and tiring, but people need support, not criticism or “shoulds.”

    Reply
    • Tandy Elisala
      Tandy Elisala says:

      Yeah, I was surprised at the number of times people would tell me this, Jackie. Rude indeed! While taking care of parents in our home may not be for everyone, it worked for us and to this point in my life, it’s been one of my most important work to date. Family caregivers need a lot of support. I’m glad Colleen was there for your mom!

      Reply

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