How to Handle Family Criticism During the Holidays

“You know, some of Mom’s shirts are stained. You should take her shopping for some new clothes.” My brother, who comes in town twice a year, was full of suggestions. He didn’t have time to help with any of them, but he had lots of ideas about what I should be doing.

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When holidays roll around, you are surrounded by siblings and family members who come to see Mom and Dad. Despite the fact that they live too far away to pitch in or can’t seem to fit it into their schedules, they all seem to have advice on how you could be a better caregiver. Then, to add salt to the wound, your Mom adds, “Look, Michael took me to the grocery store.” One trip to the grocery store and he is a saint.  What about the hours you log every week, doing all the things that need to be done?

If this happens to you, here are 5 great tips from Griswold Special Care on how to handle family criticism:

1. Communicate ahead of time.

Your siblings don’t know about the challenges you’re facing unless you tell them. Stave off criticism in advance by sending a letter or email to family members. Let them in on the details–that Dad now requires weekly trips to the physical therapist, or that Mom is on a new brand of medication because the other kind upsets her stomach. It’s likely they are unaware of the details of your parents’ care. If they understand the situation and the extent of your involvement, they may express appreciaion for all you do. At the very least, they may be less hurtful and more helpful.

2. Mentally prepare a response to critical comments.

Let’s say your sister likes to mention that you should be visiting Mom and Dad more often. If you go in with a response thought out ahead of time, you’ll be less likely to snap at her and make your holiday gathering uncomfortable. One way to deflect an argument is to simply agree, or to ask a question  — how often do they think you should be there? You may find that the issue is not really about how often you visit, but their worry about your parents.

3. Let them know how they can help.

Tell your family know how the burden of caregiving is impacting your life. Let them know there are specific ways they can pitch in from a distance. Give them a list and ask them to sign up before they leave town. If your brother criticizes you for not asking the doctor about a specific therapy, respond with, “I know you really care about this issue. Why don’t you ask Dad’s doctor about that yourself at his appointment next week? He would appreciate your being there, and if you go with him, you will know exactly what’s going on.” If he says he can’t go, offer to set up an email invitation to talk with the doctor.

4. Don’t take it personally.

This is easier said than done, but dealing with criticism is easier if you remind yourself that not every insult has to do with you. Your brother may be lashing out because he feels guilty for not visiting your parents enough. Your sister may be critical because she’s alone for the holidays. Sometimes siblings have had a dysfunctional relationship for a long time, and caregiving is simply another venue to play out old themes.  If you can detach yourself from the emotional aspect of the situation, it will help you stay in control. You may want to just ask what they are feeling. The holidays can also  be  loaded with “old family issues” that lurk behind emotional reactions in the present. If the holidays have been stressful for your family in the past, suggest that everyone makes the most of the time together and plan a time to talk about care issues after the  holidays when people are less tense and have more focus.

5. Don’t try to please everyone.

Remember that you’re doing your best to take care of Mom and Dad, and that most of the time, your best is pretty darn good. It’s because of you that your parents are here and able to enjoy the holidays with family. So give yourself a pat on the back and let the criticism roll has helped you in these tough family situations?




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