I’ve cared for three generations of family members, my mother, my twin grandchildren, and my husband. This is my 23rd year in the caregiving trenches. If you’re a long-time caregiver like me, you’ve probably heard many “you should” statements.
Often this advice comes when you least expect it and, consequently, you’re caught by surprise. These are some of the “you should” statements I’ve received.
- Your mother said you won’t take her shopping. You should take her. She enjoys it.
- You should just explain the situation.
- Being a guardian takes time and you should stop writing to care for the twins.
- There’s a solution. You should hire more paid help.
There are problems with these statements. First, the person who makes the statement may not have all the facts. When I was advised to take my mother shopping, I decided to be honest. “My mother is an addictive spender and she was also swindled out of thousands of dollars.” The woman’s eyes widened in surprise and she didn’t say another word.
Another problem is that explanations don’t work with severe memory loss. My mother had vascular dementia—memory loss caused by a series of mini strokes—and her brain was damaged again and again. Mom lost the ability to follow conversation or remember it. Again, I chose to be honest. “My mother can’t track ideas or read,” I explained. “She thinks the alphabet letters are upside down.”
Despite good intentions, the person who makes a “you should” statement may not see the big picture. Abandoning my writing career is an example. Giving up writing would mean giving up most of my identity, not a good idea. Instead, I changed the focus of my writing from health/wellness to caregiving.
Finally, the person who makes “you should” statements may not realize the cost of health care. We’ve used the services of three agencies. The first agency provided care four hours a day, two in the morning, two in the evening. These costs weren’t covered by insurance and would cost $50,000 a year out of pocket. Several months later, we deleted the evening shift to save money.
How can you reply to “you should” statements? Start by thanking the person for their interest. This makes it easier for you to introduce new ideas.
Depending on your relationship with the person, you may choose to share some personal information. In my mother’s case, I said she suffered another mini stroke, rarely spoke, and remembered little. “She forgot her sister died,” I added. “When I told her, she started grieving all over again. It was awful.”
Be honest, but don’t overdo it. Sharing a medical fact or two is far different from sharing your loved one’s entire medical history.
Finally, leave the door open for future contacts and friendship. Say you’re glad you met the person and would love to discuss the topic further over coffee or lunch. I usually close a conversation with, “Thank you for thinking of us and for the gift of listening.” It’s a good closing line.