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How to Handle Family Criticism During the Holidays

You’re taking care of your elderly mother. Lately, your days seem to be an endless cycle of driving her to doctor’s appointments, buying her groceries, picking up her medications, and taking trips to her house to change a light bulb or fix the oven. You’re happy to do this for Mom, and you feel like, all in all, you’re doing a pretty good job.

Then, the holidays roll around. Suddenly, you’re surrounded by siblings and cousins who have come into town to see Mom for the holidays. Despite the fact that they live too far away to pitch in, or can’t seem to fit it into their schedules, they all have advice on how you could be a better caregiver.

It’s a situation that would make anyone tear their hair out. Whether your family means to or not, they can make you feel under appreciated and criticized.

Being a family caregiver means you must deal with the daily challenges of caring for an ailing loved one — a task that often leads to caregiver stress and caregiver burnout. The last thing you want to encounter is criticism from your family members about your caregiving!

Here are five tips to help you 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 your 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. If they understand the situation, they’ll be less hurtful and more helpful.
  2. Mentally prepare a response to critical comments. Your sister always 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.
  3. Let them know how they can help. Gently remind your family that you’re taking on the burden of caregiving and tell them how it’s 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 sister may be dealing with resentment because she’s spending the holidays alone, or your brother may be lashing out because he feels guilty for not visiting your parents enough. 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 holiday has 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 that most of the time, your best is pretty darn good. It’s because of you that Mom is here and healthy to enjoy the holidays with your family. So give yourself a pat on the back and let the criticism roll off!

Do you have any tips for dealing with critical family members? We’d love to hear your advice in the comments section!