Self Caring

When Your Help Isn't Any Help

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Advice like "Don't go it alone!" and "Let others help you!" have become clichés of caregiving. But what happens when the caregiving helpers are more problem than solution for you?

As great as it is to spread the burden of care, sometimes the so-called help only complicates or adds to the burden. My mom used to say she was glad she was an only child because she didn't have to consult anyone else in decisions about her mom, who had Alzheimer's. Another caregiver recently told me about her drama queen sister, who swooped in from across the country to try to take over care after their mom's heart attack. Never mind that she was never around to help during Mom's day-to-day aging needs. I hear about this scenario a lot when a crisis in a family leads to an "all hands on deck" impulse.

Any of these mucking-up-caregiving types ring a bell?

  • The birth-order boss. You feel 10 again. Never mind that you're a lawyer, a nurse, or the person who's been looking after your parent all along. Now you're taking orders, no collaboration necessary.

  • The busy bee. He or she is a whirlwind of activity "“ unfortunately in a way that makes more work for everybody or mucks up well-laid plans.

  • The critic. All complaints and no action.

  • The star. Forget the sick person. It's all about this "helper" wanting pats on the back and public recognition for his or her, er, selflessness.

  • The pill. Whether a sibling, adult child, or other relative, the person's habits and style are so darn unpleasant you just wish he or she would go back home.

  • The resentful one. Whether by choice or default, Mom or Dad give you a lot of control because you've been the hands-on one, or the more responsive one, in good times and bad, regardless of birth order. Older sibs and brothers, especially, *don't like this! *

Net result: You have to deal with emotional landmines on top of the caregiving stuff. Sometimes you think it would be easier

So how can you handle a less-than-helpful helper?

  • Try keeping the eye on the goal, which is the welfare of your loved one. It's easy to slide into old rivalries and personality clashes

  • Remind the helper to keep the eye on the goal, too. It can't hurt to try.

  • Speak up. Point out rudenesses. Don't allow yourself to be pushed aside.

  • Divide and conquer. Try appealing to each other's expertise. You do your part; he does his.

  • Appeal to a neutral third party. Sometimes an elder statesman relative, a family friend, a clergy person, or a doctor/nurse/social worker/hospice worker/geriatric care manager involved in the case can resolve differences. Another option: An elder mediator.

  • Take turns. Is it necessary for everyone to be on hand at the same time? Can you alternate living in the same space and rotate care? (Not always applicable but worth it, if it is.)

  • Get away. Cede a little control sometimes so you can get out and scream "“ I mean, take a deep breath and recharge. Even a cup of solo coffee in the hospital cafeteria or a walk around the block can make untenable situations at least more manageable for a few minutes.

  • Stay good to yourself. Because you're keeping your eye on the prize.

Help your fellow caregivers: What else works for you?