I spoke at Haven Hospice in Gainesville, Florida yesterday–and the speaker before me was Dr. Slayton who is also a caregiver to his 87 year old father. He spoke of the “Out of Town Hero Syndrome.”
Everyone knew what that was–it’s when out of town relatives swoop in town and begin to tell YOU how to care give.
They come once or twice a year (thank goodness, not more) and rearrange everything from your medicine cabinet to your car’s glove compartment while proceeding to tell you (in subtle and not so subtle back stabs) how you could, should give better care–to mom or dad.
You’re there 365 days a year. They’re there for 10.
You’re nice at first. Keep peace, you tell yourself…but by day three you’re about to blow a gasket.
If your loved one has to go to the doctor or is in the hospital or in hospice and it’s near the end–then it’s ten times worse. They run the show. The doctors and nurses speak to them. Especially if they’re an older sibling–then you’re really in for it.
By the time they leave you can barely find your own socks.
You’re angry, frustrated–and worse–your confidence has been undermined.
You start to doubt yourself.
You just want to quit. Fine then–take mom–take dad.
“Do it all yourself and I’ll come back this time next year and boss YOU around for ten days.”
That’s what you’d like to say.
On top of that–your mom or dad like them MORE.
They get the smiles, holding hands, pleasantries you haven’t seen in months–they sit at the table and gab like you do this every night and you feel like such a hypocrite. They’re all in the livingroom talking after dinner–and where are you?
Loading the dishwasher.
I didn’t have siblings, but I experienced this with several relatives who came into see mom–twice–once each in more than two years.
I went off for the day to give them time alone and when I had come home this person (no names) had reorganized my pantry and all my kitchen cabinets. She took me in there by the hand and showed me everything she had done and explained why her system should work better. I had to stand there like a ten year old in trouble and agree, yes, her system was better and I was a piece of …well, you know.
I was so stressed, angry and nervous by the time she left I thought I’d collapse in a heap on the floor when she pulled out of the driveway. On top of that, I knew my mother had complained her head off about me–not taking her to church, drinking wine (my mother was a fundamentalist minister), watching movies with curse words, letting my daughters wear those short shorts…you name it.
The next time this happened was with a good friend of mine. My mother ate her up like she was homemade vanilla ice cream. They chatted and laughed–my friend washed my mother’s hair and did her nails.
Made me sick.
I had asked my friend to come down to help me and this felt like betrayal. I know she didn’t mean to but that’s how it felt.
I felt judged–and poorly lacking.
Mother hadn’t said a kind word to me in weeks and now she was a geyser of compliments.
Then I heard them whispering. Mother was crying (fake crying) and saying she wished I were sweeter, kinder, more patient, that she didn’t know what she had done to make me act so cold to her.
My friend came out and a very concerned voice told me I needed to make up with my mother and forgive her.
I thought my head would split open. I felt betrayed by everyone.
Mother was up to her old manipulation tricks–and I knew this full well having experienced it countless time in forty years.
I told my friend she really had no idea what was really going on here and that I needed her to respect and trust me.
Later, she apologized. Her father got Alzheimer’s and she dealt with her own family issues. She really didn’t have anything to apologize for. I knew how mother had played her, but I understood.
I share all this with you to say this about relatives in town or out who make you question yourself:
Know deep inside you are a good person–a good daughter, son, spouse–and let no one shake you on this
Stop worrying about what other people think about you and your caregiving.
It’s none of your business what others think of you. (How freeing is that?!?)
You’re care giving because you believe it’s the right thing to do. You have to give care the way you can–the way you can be consistent, they way that’s right for you and your loved one.
Stand firm on this and don’t listen to other’s opinions.
Unless they have done this for as long as you have, they can’t possibly comprehend the level of sacrifice, committment, love, tenacity, and exhaustion you’ve endured. Caregiving is a marathon not a sprint.
You may feel yourself pulling away from people.
That’s part of caregiving.
You’ll naturally pull in–for good and not so good reasons.
You’ll get tired of explaining yourself.
You’ll get tired of trying to be nice to people.
You’ll get tired of feeling that everything you do is up for scrutiny.
You’ll get strong and stop needing others to validate you or what you’re doing.
That’s the bottom line.
Your relatives, friends and neighbors will intimidate you just so far and then you’ll find your backbone and stand your ground.
This is one of the best lessons of caregiving that can change you and how you deal with others for the rest of your life.
You will become strong, independent, and do what you need to do and you won’t give a rip what others think. They have no idea.
The anger and hurt will dissapte. In time.
These situations and people that threaten you will give you a gift–you’ll find your own confidence.
You’ll be in your own quiet center.
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