Terri had cared for her ailing mother Doris at home for many years, until Terri needed back surgery and handling Doris’s personal care became too much for her. She toured several nursing facilities and arranged to place Doris in the nicest one she could find. When she got home from admitting Doris to the facility, she received a telephone call from her enraged brother. "How dare you put your mother in a place like that?" he demanded.

    Alex was his father Jim’s health care power of attorney. As Jim slowly succumbed to cancer, he and Alex had many long talks about Jim’s wishes for a peaceful death at home. When the doctors indicated Jim had a few days left, at most, Alex summoned his aunts and uncles to say their final good byes. Instead they arrived en masse and demanded that Jim be taken to a hospital and given aggressive treatment. Instead of the quiet passing he had envisioned for himself, Jim died surrounded by strangers, machines, and frantic resuscitation attempts.

    Unfortunately, stories like the ones described above are not uncommon. All two often, one family member takes responsibility for a loved one’s daily care. When that loved one suffers a crisis or a sudden decline, other family members appear out of the woodwork to second guess and, often, to criticize.

    If you suddenly find yourself under fire about the decisions you’ve made regarding the care of aging parents or other family members, there are some steps you can take to deflect the criticism and remove yourself from the role of scapegoat.

    1. Keep Family Members in the Loop – Whether They Want to Be There or Not.

    Make it a point to send out a weekly email regarding any change in your loved one’s condition or in your ability to manage your loved one’s care. If you need something, ask for it directly. "I’d love to keep Mom at home a while longer. I think if we all chipped in $100 per month to hire a part time caregiver, we could make it work."

    2. Listen Compassionately.

    If a family member approaches you with complaints, resist the urge to defend yourself and simply listen. What sounds like condemnation labeled at you is probably an entirely different emotion such as sadness, frustration, or guilt. Once your family member has had the chance to vent, he or she will probably calm down and be more reasonable.

    There is one exception to this rule. You do not have to accept verbal abuse. If the critic calls you names or uses profanity say, "There’s no point in discussing this while you’re so upset. We’ll talk after you’ve had a chance to think a little and settle down." Then hang up the phone or walk out the door.

    3. Make the Critic Take an Active Role in Care-Planning.

    The person who levels criticism needs to learn that he or she must come up with solutions as well as problems. To help your family member think along those lines, ask pointed questions like, "How would you rather we deal with this?" "If we decide to try to keep Aunt Jenny at home, how much help can I count on from you?"

    4. Set Up a Meeting with Your Loved One’s Care Team.

    Ask your loved one’s doctor, home health team, or hospice team to hold a family meeting so that relatives with questions and criticisms can get a professional opinion. Sometimes a hospice nurse explaining that treatment is futile carries more weight with families than the long-time caregiver saying the same thing.

    5. Don’t Be Afraid to Use Your Legal Authority.

    If your loved one has left a durable power of attorney naming you as his or her healthcare agent, or if a probate court has granted you a guardianship or conservatorship over a loved one with dementia, don’t hesitate to use your legal status to honor your loved one’s wishes. Unfortunately, your decisions may make you unpopular among certain family members for awhile.

    6. Seek Support for Yourself.

    Confrontations with well-meaning, or sometimes not-so-well-meaning, family members can contribute to caregiver burnout and increased stress. Caregiver support groups can provide a safe place for you to share what’s going on in your family and hear stories about similar situations and how other people handled them successfully.

    Being an adult caregiver is hard enough without having to fend off attacks from your own family. If you become the subject of caregiver criticism, keep the lines of communication open and listen to all points of view, but when you take action, make sure you are doing what is best for your loved one and not just what will alleviate the guilt or pain of other family members.  

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