With good intentions, we come to a point in our lives where we attempt the often incredibly frustrating and emotionally demolishing task of caring for a loved family member. It starts out innocently enough, but often as time passes we realize that slowly the task became outright daunting, draining, and a destroyer of our personal freedoms. Sometimes, we look back and question how things came this far, only to realize that we accepted harshness one piece at a time, often not compounding it as a whole, but as individualized to make things easier.
We end up in a predicament where we often feel helpless as the person we are caring for is literally driving us to the cliffs of insanity (don't jump), yet the guilt of abandoning this person would eat us alive if we stopped caring for them. Also, many of our other loved ones would look upon us rashly if we stopped as well. (Often they never lifted a finger to help anyway) I'm sure this is an all too familiar predicament that many people are in. Adding to all of it, is the harsh, demanding, worrying, stubborn, and ungrateful attitude of the person we are caring for.
Day after day some of us get pestering repeated phone calls, demands, and ungrateful attitudes towards the tasks we do for these people. We can do large favors for them, only to be met with a scowling gesture, corrective talk, demeaning talk, or critique of un-appreciation.
Mary's parents could call her 10 times that they need some things at the store. After Mary gets off work, she goes to the supermarket and buys many items for them. When she arrives, her mother sorts through all the sacks and complains “you bought the wrong type of paper towels, you know I always use the yellow package ones” forgetting all the while that Mary did a good favor for them, along with all the other things she got “right”. Mary can be left with a bad feeling after being somewhat critiqued and condescended. It can draw up feelings of “well then next time why don't you go shop for yourself and buy the right ones”. But we don't want to say that, because we'd rather respect our elders and not treat them as bad as we are being treated by them.
Is there hope?
I don't want to lie to anybody and tell you that the decisions and actions that you take from here on out will be easy. I'll share you some steps that have worked for me.
1. Think about what they are doing and assign a name to it. It helped me a lot with my grandpa to think “Ha-ha, he's just being an old curmudgeon”. Continue to laugh to yourself at their behavior or character.
2. Avoid the phone. There is simply not a reason to answer the phone every single time it rings. Sometimes the elderly will call upwards of 10-12 times a day. The best plan is to situate a time when you will be able to answer your phone with them. If it is an emergency, they should contact the emergency services of your area.
3. Even though it seems like it, realize that this living situation will not go on forever. Sometimes there are instances where it can go on for a decade or more, but the reality is that usually lasts for a few years at most.
4. Know that you are in control of your own life, and that any time you could walk out of the situation. The actions you take with a loved one are done in kindness.
5. Never accept abuse. Verbal and physical abuse is not something that is excusable even for the elderly. We have the right to our bodies being left unharmed. Sometimes an elderly parent views their own (now adult and aging) children still as children, whom they can “punish” like children (such as slapping or yelling). This can even complicate matters and bring up a lot of emotional trouble within the caretaker. It is important to address these problems immediately. If the curmudgeon is still bitter when corrected, turn about face, and simply walk away. Show them that you are in charge of the situation and can leave at any time. Some people give them a second chance, while others do not come back. If a second chance is given and any abuse continues, stop working with them as it is an unhealthy situation.
6. Physically walk away. Simply say “I am not going to take this ugly behavior, and I'll call you later”. Leave the premises and do not contact again for the rest of the day. Often this will leave a grumpy person in fear that you will quit taking care of them, and help them to realize that this is a voluntary thing that you are doing. You can even call them later and make them apologize if they want you to continue caring for them.
A curmudgeon seriously can complicate life. There have been so many instances where it has stressed many people caring for the elderly out to the point that they stop taking care. There are also instances where a person is caring for another elderly within a house, but the curmudgeon makes the care of a 3rd party unbearable. Sludging through these types is daunting, but unfortunately a part of life.
The most important thing is to hang in there and stick to your principles on how you will deal with them. Set absolutes and write them down and stick to them in the event that you would have to stop caring. Be firm but polite, never engage in fighting, and simply try to make the best of it. It is never easy, but through this experience you'll emerge a stronger person.