Lately, I have been addressing the issue of judging other people.

I have written about not judging other caregivers for expressing anger, frustration, or resentment “Caregivers Need Support for their Feelings”. Many caregivers feel negative emotions, even briefly, at some point. If you have not yet experienced those feelings, you likely will; it’s normal and okay as long as your actions are loving. I have written about not rushing to judgment when well-intentioned friends and families make irritating or hurtful statements meant to be helpful in your caregiving role “Be Mindful of Being Overly Sensitive to ‘Helpful’ Comments”. We tend to overreact to others’ comments when they have no experience with caregiving. Our gut reactions are justified but our friends and family usually mean well. In this post I want to focus on judging family caregivers.

Millions of families need a caregiver to help with an ailing and/or aging family member.

Limited family finances, in turn, limit options for many families such that they are forced to rely on a relative to provide help. In a majority of these cases, there is one family member who is responsible for most, if not all, of the care. In situations where the default caregiver is a family member, there is usually little to no background in home health care. Few of these caregivers have medical training, nor an understanding of disease process, nor of aging. Yet, family caregivers begin their assignments at a demanding pace of balancing hands-on care, medical appointments, personal matters, laundry, and chores. While trying to deal with their new responsibilities some caregivers find it challenging to understand why their loved ones with dementia are unable to follow basic instructions, or are combative during care routines. They may be overwhelmed that they cannot do more to assist a loved one with pain management. The caregivers’ stress begins to show itself.

There are many family caregivers who have enough past experience to balance the demands of the job and their own needs but many struggle to manage. They become angry and short-fused, and their mood is visible to the world. If you are one of those caregivers who is naturally adept at handling your caregiving role, or if you are infinitely patient, it would be easy to see a caregiving daughter snapping at her mom and think, ”What a terrible caregiver!” It would be understandable that you would see a disheveled son outside of his neglected father’s home and think the son is an incompetent caregiver who needs a visit from Adult Protective Services.

I am going to ask you to proceed with caution in your judgment from now on.

The United States is facing a rapidly growing population of people who need caregivers. Many cannot afford caregivers and the nation cannot afford to provide caregivers, free of charge, to those in need. We need to support our volunteer caregivers because we really need them. It’s important to help if we can. A kind word of encouragement, a delivered meal, a chat over a cup of coffee. We need to intervene on behalf of their loved ones if it is appropriate, of course. If there is harmful neglect or outright abuse in any form (physical, emotional, sexual, financial) we need to contact the police or our local Adult Protective Services. But if we observe a family caregiver who is taking a poorly dressed, poorly groomed parent to the doctor’s office, remember that the point is that the caregiver is making sure their loved one is getting medical care. If you see a family caregiver becoming frustrated because his parent is acting out in a restaurant, appreciate that the loved is on an outing and is being nourished.

The fact is, there are many caregivers who have no business owning a cat, let alone being responsible for a frail human being. Yet, here they are amongst us, taking care of their loved ones because their sense of obligation and duty is strong. They believe they are the best option their loved one has for care, so they are trying to do the best they know how to do. It might not meet your standard of care nor mine but the job is getting done.

In the coming years as these caregivers, appointed by default, sacrifice their lives and livelihoods for their loved ones, we should tip our hats to them for caring enough to try until a better solution comes along.

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