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Are Your Expectations of Fellow Caregivers Unrealistic?

By Deb HippJune 28, 2019
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Caregiving team members often have tremendous expectations of others in the family or friend network but they may not always be realistic.

If you’re frequently disappointed or frustrated with fellow family caregivers, it could be time to reevaluate your expectations. Learn more from these six suggestions for having more realistic expectations of fellow caregivers.

Expectations of Fellow Caregivers

One morning a few years ago, I woke to yet another cryptic text message from my brother Rick: “Driving Dad to the emergency room.” In Rick’s mind, that’s all I needed to know. For me, though, living 400 miles away, the message immediately kicked my anxiety and worry into high gear.

I called Rick for more details immediately after receiving his text. Straight to voicemail. My two brothers and I were trying to figure out how to be there for our aging parents, who still lived independently despite my dad’s worsening dementia. The situation was already stressful, and it didn’t help that Rick and I squabbled frequently.

I wanted Rick to stop by our parents’ house more often to check on them or drop off groceries. Rick thought he already did plenty, driving our parents to doctors’ appointments and being the on-call adult child whenever Mom needed a handyman. If I wanted things done a certain way, I should “move there and do them myself,” he told me.

Now, as Rick headed to the emergency room while Dad’s health crisis remained a mystery to me, this was one more instance of not meeting each other’s expectations. I wanted Rick to give more details than a one-sentence text in emergencies. He wanted me to leave him alone so he could handle a crisis without interruption.

As usual, neither of us got what we needed or wanted.

How to Have More Realistic Expectations of Caregivers

People on the caregiving team often have tremendous expectations of others in the family or friend network, says Jennifer FitzPatrick, author of “Cruising Through Caregiving: Reducing the Stress of Caring for Your Loved One.” Those expectations, however, may not always be realistic.

You don’t have to make irrational demands or unreasonable requests to have unrealistic expectations. Let’s say you live with your mother as her primary caregiver, are burning out and want weekends off, so you ask your sister to stay with Mom on weekends so you can get out of the house. However, her weekends are busy taking care of her own family, so she tells you no. Now there’s tension between the two of you.

“While this is a reasonable ask, it’s also reasonable for others in the family to decline and suggest other ways to contribute,” says FitzPatrick. In this situation, another sibling could stay with Mom on Saturdays during the day or offer to pay for a home health aide to stay with Mom on weekends.

“Often, primary caregivers become upset about suggestions like this when it doesn’t line up with their vision of what it means to be a good caregiver,” says FitzPatrick.”

If you’re frequently disappointed and frustrated with fellow family caregivers, it could be time to reevaluate your expectations.

Here are six suggestions for having more realistic expectations of fellow caregivers:

1. Accept and acknowledge non-direct contributions.

Be open to what others in the family can offer besides direct care. Family members and friends who make financial contributions, run errands for the primary caregiver and perform online research are also making valuable contributions, FitzPatrick says.

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2. Don’t criticize.

Nothing sets off a war among the caregiving team like a secondary caregiver criticizing something that the primary caregiver is doing. At the same time, a primary caregiver who assumes that any help must come only in the form of direct care can create resentment among fellow caregivers.

3. Don’t judge too harshly.

“You may judge those you are closest to more harshly than you would other people. That’s because your history and relationship with another caregiver impact your expectations of him or her,” says FitzPatrick.

4. Get an impartial opinion.

Talk with a trusted family member, friend or therapist about your expectations of a fellow caregiver who disappoints. “Because it’s so important to pick your battles in these cases, having a third party weigh in on whether you’re being unreasonable is invaluable,” says FitzPatrick.

5. Take stock of yourself.

You can’t control what other caregivers are doing or not doing, says FitzPatrick. But you can take stock of yourself and how your possibly unrealistic expectations are impacting other caregivers.

6. Talk it out.

“Communication among members of the caregiving crew is essential,” says FitzPatrick. “Whether you are a primary caregiver who is burning out or a secondary caregiver who wants to help more, you need to discuss your expectations and limitations.”

Why a Little Understanding Goes a Long Way Amongst Fellow Caregivers

Rick and I eventually worked out our differences so we could each be more effective in helping our parents. I asked Rick to stop sending one-sentence text messages and explained that the lack of information caused me to feel anxious and imagine worst-case scenarios. Most of the time now, he calls to discuss what’s going on instead of texting.

After he explained that he felt I was hounding him for more information when he was already stressed, I’ve learned to back off (most of the time) and wait for an update. I had to understand that Rick had his own family and couldn’t meet my vision of what he should do to help our parents.

At the same time, he had to understand that I couldn’t just quit my job, sell my house and leave my entire support network to be there to help. Rick acknowledged my caregiving contributions such as the frozen slow cooker meals I prepared and delivered to Dad and Mom, along with my frequent visits and online research into veteran’s benefits.

Keep in mind that even if your expectations are reasonable, you still may be disappointed. “Some people in the family will simply do nothing to help the caregiving process,” says FitzPatrick. “But many will if they are asked for something they know how to do or feel comfortable doing.”

Have you been in a similar situation before? How did fellow caregivers in your family or friend group reevaluate their expectations? We’d like to hear your stories in the comments below.

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Deb Hipp