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AGEWISE: Coping with criticism while caregiving
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AGEWISE: Coping with criticism while caregiving

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Q: I am the primary caregiver to my mother. I feel like my siblings unfairly criticize the way I care for her. How can I make them understand it’s not easy?

— AM

Answer: Caregivers often have the responsibility of making tough decisions regarding their loved one’s care. This may cause them to deal with a fair amount of criticism, particularly from family members who have different opinions regarding the care plan. It’s likely that in most cases their comments are well-intentioned but even so, can feel judgmental and disapproving. Feeling judged and criticized by family members while trying to do the right thing for a parent can easily foster resentment and conflict. Although it’s impossible to stop criticism completely, here are some tips for coping with criticism while caregiving.

1. Listen to what the person has to say. Most people’s immediate reaction to receiving criticism is to get defensive and shut down. However, it’s important to try to recognize when the critic is being respectful and has the best interests of you and your loved one at heart. In those situations, try your best to truly listen to what they have to say. Even if you don’t end up taking their advice, listening to criticism can help you gain perspective about their feelings and fears. Even if their opinions are misguided or negative, the worst-case scenario is you spend a few minutes of your time politely listening to what they have to say and allowing them to feel heard.

2. Ignore your immediate response. While you’re listening to what your critic has to say, try to push down the gut reactions that come with being challenged and put on the spot. Instead of becoming argumentative or leading the conversation with justifications, try to be objective when weighing the importance of the criticism. Don’t be afraid to take time to think about your response and ask to discuss the matter more later. Remember, it’s important to take the time to consider their point of view and address the situation when tensions are not as high.

3. Learn how to detach. Even when you’re willing to listen to what your critic has to say and respond in a polite and respectful manner, there may be times when you are forced to deal with people who seem to only make comments for the sake of being critical. In these situations, it may feel like nothing you do is ever good enough. Although it’s important to keep in mind that this kind of criticism usually has to do more with the person dishing it out than the person receiving it, it can be still be hurtful. In cases like this, it may be most helpful to learn how to see their comments for what they are and not take them personally.

4. Know when to walk away from the situation. It’s important to respect others’ opinions and points of view, but there comes a point where constant criticism can become harmful. In this case, it is important to set clear boundaries and to calmly let your critic know that you won’t tolerate such treatment. If this is the case in your situation, limit communication with your overly judgmental siblings or let them take on the role of primary caregiver for a bit. After having walked in your shoes, it’s likely that they will realize how hard the job can be and may stop being as critical of you.

Although these tips are useful for dealing in the moment with everyday criticism, sometimes the most helpful way to cope with your situation is to talk with others who are going through something similar. Luckily, here in Winston-Salem there are support groups designed specifically to help caregivers. In fact, Senior Services offers a support group for caregivers of loved ones with dementia.

To learn more about how to get involved, email swelborn@seniorservicesinc.org or call 336-724-2155. You can also find information and links to other resources for caregiver support seniorservicesinc.org/resources/support-groups/.

AgeWise is a weekly column compiled by staff of Senior Services Inc., a nonprofit organization in Winston-Salem. If you have a question, email agewise@seniorservicesinc.org or mail to Senior Services, 2895 Shorefair Drive, Winston-Salem, NC 27105.

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