Friday, May 24, 2013

Thanks, but No Thanks.

Before I was a mom, I thought I had motherhood figured out. I graduated with a degree in Early Childhood and thought I was pretty smart. I attended several trainings for my job as a preschool teacher and read many articles and books on discipline, parenting, etc in an effort to help me in my job and prepare me for my future of motherhood.

What I learned upon having children, is that no book or training prepares you for the real life situations you face in daily parenting. I found early on that the textbook logic answers don’t always work and each child behaves and reacts differently to things. A great example I can give to you is the toddler store meltdown. When my first child was only a couple years old, she began having massive tantrums in the store when she couldn’t have what she wanted. The textbook answer to tantrums: do not give in to what they want and remove them from the situation. If only that worked! As I tried to put my brilliant parenting knowledge to action, and calmly explain to my daughter that she would NOT get anything when she threw fits, her tantrum only increased. She made a big scene. I could feel my face grow hot and redden as I struggled with a writhing, kicking, screaming 2 year old who couldn’t have whatever object it was that she wanted at the time. I could feel the judgmental stares burning into me and I remember one lady shaking her head and rolling her eyes. I could’ve died!

I’ve had many a lessons such as this one, as I’m sure every mother in the universe has. There is always someone ready to criticize, judge or make suggestions on your parenting techniques. I have definitely gained some wisdom, and humility, since becoming a mother. I know not to judge too harshly with the way a child behaves and the way a parent chooses to handle their child(ren). It is such a personal thing and there isn’t always a clear answer as to what is right and what is wrong. And a child’s bad behavior is not always a result of bad parenting. Most parents are doing the best they can with the tools they have.

This same conflict exists with care giving. Like parenting, it is a tough job. There is not always a right or a wrong answer in a given situation. Most of this is trial and error; we learn as we go what works with mom and what doesn’t work. People can be very quick to give their opinions on how you should handle your loved one even though they are not there on a day-to-day basis to really understand what is going on with that person.

I’m not saying that all advice is unwelcome. There are times when it is appropriate. Sometimes we may not know the best way to handle a situation and we look to others for ideas of things that have worked for them.

In the beginning of mom’s diagnosis, many family members had their opinions on how her health should be managed. What we also found was that the people who had the most opinions were the people who were around the least. We made it very clear that if any member of the family wanted to be a part of mom’s life, criticism and sneaking behind our backs to do what they felt was the better option for mom would not be tolerated in the least. It seemed to nip the problem in the bud, for the time being.

Recently, I had one family member email me about an issue regarding mom and very quickly it became an attack on our care for mom.

“You should have done this a long time ago….I told you that you needed to…blah blah blah.”

Ironically, this person has only been over to see mom once in the past 8-12 months. She rarely calls. Only recently she has been talking to mom again on the phone (when mom calls). I would hardly say she is in any position to give advice on how to handle the situation. Nobody has the right to tell a caregiver what they are doing wrong or right. This is an extremely difficult position to be in; to have to reverse the roles and take away mom’s independence little by little and be forced to treat her a child. Many times the things we have to do are hard and it takes a little bit of emotional prepping to do it. It’s not that we don’t know what we should be doing, it’s that we need to get some courage to do it. Sometimes it is about choosing our battles and allowing mom to keep some of her freedoms for a time until it becomes necessary to take it away. I repeat again, it is a difficult position to be in.

If you are just starting your journey with dementia, take it from me: people will come out of the wood work with all kinds of advice, opinions and even judgments on the care you give your loved one. I think it’s important early on to set the record straight and let everyone know who is in charge of the caregiving decisions. Be firm and stand your ground. It is easy to be taken advantage of, to question your ability, to feel inadequate in the care you give. Seek advice when you need to, but turn to the right sources for help (you can visit my resources page for ideas). Last of all, have confidence in yourself and don’t let the naysayers bring you down. There will always be someone there to criticize the job you are doing, no matter how well you do it. Let it roll off your back and spend invest your energy where you need it most: in your caregiving.


  1. You are so very right. I went through this with family members who lived quite a long way away. Mom's sister wanted to know why I, a psychologist, couldn't make sure my mom was better treated (cured). She also insisted that I take Mom to the dentist to get her lower denture replaced, and implied that I was not doing so because of the cost. I flat out refused to take my mom, who was unable to understand what was going on (and left her bottom denture someplace because it didn't fit right, I assume) to the dentist to have someone try to take an impression and then fit her with another denture. My aunt was in a snit, but tough. Interestingly, she now has dementia herself, and we are trying to be super careful about giving our uncle advice. We only do when he asks, and when he makes decisions about her care, we thank him for taking such good care of her, and tell him we will support whatever he decides. I can't imagine talking to someone else the way I was talked to. It's hard enough taking care of someone without someone butting in and offering advice that is unwanted, and usually uneducated.

  2. Very well said, Cassandra. I think the same can be said for any situation people "think" they know what "they" would do in that situation. You wouldn't believe the countless "advice" Trevor and I have had in our own trials. It gets old, and it gets old fast. The moral of the story is, unless you have been in the person's shoes, do not give your unwanted advice freely. Even if you have been in the person's shoes, no two situations are exactly the same, so what worked for you, may not work for the next person.

  3. Very nicely said Cassandra...There are so many people in this situation presently and in the future it will be even worse...too bad we can't all pull together rather than criticize...If they don't want to be involved, they shouldn't be involved...I was lucky (if you can call it lucky)that my brother and I were on the same page concerning Pa...he let me deal with things as I could and he just stayed in the background until needed...There were times when I said, you do this part...and he would because he never came to visit as that was too difficult for him...darn, now you've made me cry again...