Please Don’t Say That or What I’m Thinking While You Are Talking

Okay, I’m going to do that very cliché blogger thing and make a list of things not to say to someone taking care of their elderly family member. Pitifully unoriginal? Yes. But on the other hand, if no one ever tells you, how are you going to know, right?

Please don’t say:

“Take care of yourself.” I hear this a lot from my many well-meaning friends and just about anyone who gets trapped in an elevator with me and gets stuck hearing my tale of woe. I appreciate the concern. I know that I can’t adequately take care of my children, MIL, or anyone else if I am neglecting myself for any length of time, but honestly, unless you are willing to back that piece of advice by logging a few hours of granny-care, don’t say it. Yes, I know I shouldn’t cancel my dentist appointment or postpone my mammogram, but the reality is, it’s hard to find someone who can watch MIL and the kids while I’m off taking care of myself.

“Just get someone to watch her.” Um, who? Again, unless you are willing and able to fill in for me for the day, resist the urge to make this suggestion. When I only had to find a babysitter for children, it was pretty easy. I could ask my 16-year-old neighbor or one of the teenagers from church who were always eager to make a little money. I just don’t see any of those kids being capable of handling MIL. She can be verbally abusive at times, she requires a certain level of medical care, and do you really see a high school student changing an adult diaper? How awkward for everyone involved.

“What about her daughter/son/brother/sister/friend? Don’t they help?” Okay, you are putting me in an awkward position. Chances are I genuinely love those relatives and if they have been truly neglectful, I feel hurt by their actions or lack of action. I’ve wrestled with resentment and anger, and I’ve gotten pretty good at forgiving. I’ve even come to understand that people have their reasons for keeping their distance. Besides, it’s never about what other people do. It is about what I choose to do.

“I’d just put my mother-in-law in a nursing home.” First of all, having a relative in a nursing home is no picnic, and I don’t envy any family that has had to go that route. If you think putting a person in a nursing home is an easy thing to do, I recommend you volunteer at one and see if you don’t have a change of heart. Secondly, whenever anyone says they would put their mother-in-law in a nursing home, I have one of two thoughts: “Let’s hope your son or daughter marries someone nicer than you,” and “Oh, I hope your kid doesn’t marry my kid.”

“My mom and dad say they want to go to a nursing home rather than have me take care of them.” No one wants to go to a nursing home. They may not want you to have to stop your life in order to care for them, but still, no one wants to go to a nursing home. If your parents say this, they are lying or maybe they are really saying, “I love you, but you are pretty incompetent. I’d rather trust a stranger with my care because you are just going to screw it up.”

“I couldn’t do it. I couldn’t take care of my mother-in-law the way you take care of yours.” Actually, you could. You may choose not to, but make no mistake, it is a choice. You may tell yourself you aren’t capable for a number of reasons, but it’s a choice. You may even blame your mother-in-law by saying you never got along or she’s just plain difficult, but again, it’s a choice.

“You are a saint” or even worse “You are perfect.” Ha! I’m neither. A saint wouldn’t bitch, whine, or complain like I do. A saint probably wouldn’t be sharing all this in a blog entry. I’m just an average person trying her darnedest to make the right choices in life. Daily, I fail miserably. And that’s okay.

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