When we become caregivers, we may find ourselves in a situation where family members, relatives, friends or visitors like to tell us how to do our jobs better. They may offer unsolicited advice, sometimes delivered in a harsh and patronising tone. Or they criticize us for doing a bad job.
I did a video on this, using a song from Michael Jackson’s “All I want to say is that” as it resonates with the message that I wish to say:
This can actually be very disheartening and demoralizing. At first, it was difficult for me to bear but with time, I realize a few important things:
1. They are not the ones who are helping me doing the work
2. They are not the one paying for my mom’s medical bills and expenses
3. They are not the doctors and nurses who are treating my mom.
After all is said (but nothing is done), they get up and leave. Except for words, they offer no help whatsoever. And we are left feeling drained, demoralized, worthless and upset.
In this article, I would share on my learnings over the years about being patronized, given unhelpful advice, being criticized and judged by others….. and how I learnt to deal with these situation. Hopefully it would be helpful for those who may be facing similar situation.
Early caregiving days
During the early caregiving days, my mom and I were in our home. I resigned from my job but due to my mom’s Alzheimers- as that time the condition had not been obvious. It was due to my mom’s weak condition from liver cirrhosis…. where she was all yellow with jaundice and had ascities (bloating) at the abdomen and ankles. She was no longer able to care for herself.
That time, she was still mobile, even though not actively so. In becoming a caregiver, I also took over the role of a maid in the house where I was doing cooking, cleaning and quick grocery shopping runs. Being a person typically sitting in front of a computer instead of sweating in household chores perpectually, it was not an easy transition to make.
Due to my mom’s condition which looked kind of terminal, we had a lot of visitors- from neighbors and her friends. While I believe all that is said is with the best intention, sometimes it is often delivered in a patronizing tone on unsolicited advice and ‘constructive criticism’. This usually came from those who have no prior experience in looking after an elderly frail person over a long period of time.
Initially, their words used to sting and got to me. I cannot stop them from visiting as they insist to come and I figured some company would do my mom some good. But since silence can feel uncomfortable, they would look around or ask questions and then from there, would proceed to give their ‘inputs’ and ‘feedbacks’ on how I could do my job better….. often delivered bluntly.
Of course there are some who are awesome, having been caregivers themselves who had more empathy and was able to really give useful tips on how do care for my mom better. Their advice usually proved to be valuable because they know what they are talking about.
People who critisize often cannot do the same if they are in our shoes
I have known of 2 cases….. where the caregiver was being criticized for doing what they felt was a bad job. They each have grown children who refused to look after the old ladies but hand it over to a caregiver. Then when they visit, they would often observe and then go behind the caregiver’s back to complain that she was not doing her job well.
The best part was none of them wanted to look after the old ladies. One of them did try to take back her mother but could not tolerate her mother’s erratic behaviour and sent her back to the caregiver.
I have seen a number of these people who is good and talking but not doing. And when they are placed in a similar situation, they cannot even do the job a fraction of what we are doing it.
Hence, all these used to get to me. It used to make me feel angry, defensive, worthless and alone.
Lessons I’ve learned
One of the blessings of being a caregiver is that it has taught me to be a better human being. I have to in order to continue giving my mom the best care I could. So nowadays, what others say do not get to me because I’ve been in the role long enough to know myself and my worth.
Here are what I have learned with regards to criticism and unsolicited advice:
1.Don’t do it for the praise or for others to see us in a good light
In life, my sincere advice is not to do something with the expectation of being liked, praised, admired or respected. If we do it expecting external approval and validation, then we would base our entire peace and happiness on what other people think of us.
For example, while I share my experience about caregiving across my blogs and my YouTube channel, I do not showcase my mom’s face or the daily situation to get likes and validation. Personally I feel there is nothing I need to prove- I share my experience because I feel grateful that my mom is able to receive the kind of care and support from the healthcare system here. I started sharing these experience after seeing repeated questions raised in private support groups.
I am protective of my mom and do not wish that she appear in public eye and scrutiny. The only people who needed to scrutinize her are the medical team and those who are really close to me who genuinely cared. Other than that, I am answerable to no one, nor do I feel obligated to anyone because they are not the ones looking after my mom, treating her illness nor paying my mom’s medical bills and expenses.
People are always going to have something to say and offer their opinion and thoughts.
2. Be protective of your energy levels- and selective with people we associate with
We need to spend a lot of time and energy to care for our loved ones, often without enough sleep. After a while, we may notice that some people have certain types of effect on us.
What we need to watch out for are those who, we feel drained after our interaction with them be it face to face, over the phone or via online chat messages. They could have a draining effect because of either one or more of the following:
- they tend to be negative and always complaining about anything and everything
- they are patronizing, judgemental and often try to ‘lecture’ or talk down to us
- hard to say, some people are just like psychic vampire that they tend to drain energy of people around them
It would be in our best interest to limit our interaction with them in order to conserve our energy. Because in the end of the day, we are the one left to do the caregiving job and it is not that they would come and help us to change diapers or relief us of our duties.
The same goes with our use of social media like Facebook, TikTok and Instagram. We may just decide to take a scroll on our phone during the little pockets of time…. but usually consuming these media would affect our mood as well. People tend to showcase their life in the best light even though it is often not the case in reality. It may make us start to compare ourselves and feel miserable, especially caregiving can be a lonely job.
Last year, I’ve decided to delete the Facebook app from my phone after finding myself mindlessly scrolling through the FB feeds of either friends, pages I follow or in private support groups. With the additional time, I actually use it to make content (YouTube videos) and was surprised what I could accomplish with the extra time. Hence it is good to replace the time we spend on social media with a new hobby or personal project.
3. Develop patience, endurance and compassion
Before I was a caregiver, I was impatient, inflexible and got upset easily. I was also independant and had always been able to depend on myself without needing to ask help from others.
When I become a caregiver and had to look after my mom, the situation got different. I had to rely on help from others and sometimes, need to bear with black faces and impatient comments. In the past, I would have gotten upset and not tolerated such behaviour but my situation forced me to learn to ask and accept help with grace and tolerate whatever reaction that others may have. It is the battle between my ego (wanting to be right) and fulfilling my caregiving duties (my love for my mom’s welfare). In the end, the love I feel for my mom won and I forced myself to change my behaviour. Initially it was tough but after a while, it becomes natural.
And when our ego, pride and emotions stop getting into the way, there is so much of relief and inner peace. Something that I would never have learned had I not chosen to be a caregiver.
4. Learn to see through the filters and differenciate good advice from bad
I learned this during the number of hospital stays that I had to accompany my mom as her caregiver. Nurses often offered their advice but a small number of them would do it in a blunt and abrupt way.
Initially, I face difficulty in communicating with them when my Thai language was very weak (we stay in Thailand). The nurses already have to work many hours and are exhausted…. they have no time to tell me nicely and for long chit chats. They have to be abrupt and straight to the point. Initially when I could not understand and had miscommunication issues, it was tough and sometimes they even raise their voice.
But over time, my spoken Thai have improved and I could understand better. My mom literally had been staying in most of the places in the hospital- ranging from ER, outpatient, the common wards to private wings more than once (even the Covid ward she had stayed twice as she got covid twice)…. that the nurses got familiar with me and my mom.
I remember there were about 2 nurses who at first had seemed to be to be especially mean and rude during the first round of stay in wards they were working in. By the second time, when I could communicate better, and by then had develop more patience and humility, I was able to really see through the loud tone of voice to realize that they were really giving sound solid advice based on genuine concern. Even though these two nurses may not have the social skills like other nurses to delivery the message, but both of them were experienced and knowledgable in their jobs.
For example, at one time during my mom’s hospitalization this nurse , K came in to ask me to feed my mom with Elixor (KCL) due to my mom’s low sodium level. The moment the KCL was fed to my mom, her blood pressure shot up to close to 200 the next time the nurses came in to take measurement. This caused panic in me which I highlighted to the nurses who called the doctor. Over the phone, the doctor instructed for my mom to be given high blood pressure medication. The moment the medication was given her blood pressure gave a drastic drop to below acceptable levels. It took about 12 hours of them giving additional saline via IV to bring up her blood pressure to acceptable levels.
The next day when they asked me to feed my mom KCL, I refused because I was afraid it woudl elevate her blood pressure and expressed my concern.
Nurse K stomped in, saying that my mom should have the elixor because her sodium levels in her blood is too low. It is dangerous because it would cause a person to be in semi conscious due to vital nutrients not being properly delivered to their organs and body. She said after consuming the elixor, yes the blood pressure would shoot up but my mom would also be more alert. She said prior to that, my mom looked as if she was semi conscious but after the elixor was given, at least she opened her eyes and was more alert. Also, she asked me don’t worry too much about the blood pressure as it go down and normalize after a while. I just need to give it more time instead of being so anxious and she said they would come in to take her blood pressure regularly.
I calmed down and decide to follow her advice. Because after all, the day before when they called the doctor and he instructed my mom to be given bp meds, it immediately caused her bp to drop to dangerous levels. My mom’s bp shot up again but this time not so extreme and within a few hours it started to go down and normalize.
After that incident, it reall opened my eyes that sometimes, the best and most useful advice may not be delivered in the sweetest and kindest tone. That was one of the turning point that made me realize that I need to objectively contemplate the advice instead of reacting negatively or taking criticism personally.
When we are judged and criticized by others, we need to examine if there is any merit in the points that they are trying to make. Don’t let the tone of the message get to us but the message behind.
However, if we notice there are people who consistently put us down and they are unreasonably harsh….. then we may want to limit our interaction with them to protect our energies level in order to continue to do the role we are doing.
My dear mom herself was often misunderstood in her intentions and sometimes she had been wrongfully accused. To which her reply would be: