Get Them in the Game and Everyone Wins
The armchair quarterback stars as a recurring character in caregiving. That's the family member or friend uninvolved in the day-to-day realities of caregiving who breezes in on occasion full of advice and criticism:
"What are you talking about? Mom is just fine. You're exaggerating. This kind of forgetfulness is normal at her age. You need to relax."
"Mom should change her doctor."
"How could you move Dad to an elder care facility? I would never do that to him."
I heard caregivers recount these conversations - with tears of sadness, anger and confusion - at weekly caregiver support groups. If the offenders had been in the room, I would have feared for their lives! As the group facilitator, I helped members express their feelings and offered ways to deal with this behavior.
However, my understanding was primarily intellectual. When I became a mother, a light went on: Now I get it! Actually, I am glad I did not "get it" as much as I do now because I would not have been an effective group facilitator. If you want to make me run-to-the-hills crazy, all you have to do is play the armchair quarterback to my parenting. Just as these caregivers had hot buttons, so did I as a new mother:
"Why don't you give him a bottle?"
"My child slept through the night the first day we brought him home."
"I think you are spoiling him."
These statements stripped me of my calm, rational approach to life. Even when they came from people who want to help - mostly when they do - I became hurt.
While these armchair experts may mean well, they often are more than the frazzled caregiver on the scene can take. The result: The caregiver explodes, the quarterback retreats and little is accomplished.
Actually, armchair quarterbacks present an opportunity in disguise. Understand the basis of the behavior, learn a few communication tricks, and you can use their energy to meet your caregiving goals. Here are tips to turn an annoyance into an asset:
Take a deep breath. You are under a great deal of stress. It affects your thinking and your interaction with others. Stop, count to 10 or go for a walk. Do whatever you need to do to regain control of the situation with your intellect rather than feelings. When you blow your top, you blow the opportunity.
Don't take the quarterback's criticism as a personal attack much as it feels like it. This is not about you. It's not even about the senior in question. This is about the armchair quarterback.
Remember they want to help. They care, which is why they are there at the moment annoying you to no end. The good news: They are expending energy on caregiving. Now the goal is to get them to expend it in a more productive manner.
See the situation from their point of view. They most likely are feeling powerful emotions - guilt and helplessness - that fuel their behavior.
1. Avoid the use of "you" statements in talking to them, such as:
These statements invite argument. Quarterbacks will feel attacked and use the statements to debate their position with you, maintaining they do not criticize you, they do not hurt overly sensitive you, and they are trying to make less work, not more. This is not the conversation you want to have.
2. Use "I" statements to stay focused on your feelings:
3. Communicate in a way that expresses your empathy - your understanding of the quarterback's position:
"It must be difficult to be so far away and concerned about Mom."
"It sounds like you are really concerned about Dad."
"It seems like you think Mom's doctor is not prescribing the right medication."
Important notes about using empathy statements in your communication: Be sure to ask them in the form of questions rather than statements. Ask if this is indeed how they think or feel. Don't make these statements if you don't mean them. They can come out as sarcasm, and you don't have the energy for this now.
4. Be clear about what you and the care recipient need. Focus on tasks:
"We need assistance finding a new doctor."
"I need respite to go on a vacation."
"We need someone to look into alternative care options."
5. Establish regular contact.
Meet with them via conference call, e-mail or in person. Keep them updated about caregiving and involve them in making decisions.
6. Develop and review a written plan about their involvement in caregiving.
That could include financial support, bookkeeping, meeting with health professionals, researching, visiting regularly and providing respite.
I know all of this seems like a great deal of extra work. It involves introspection, patience and perhaps new skills. However, the more people are involved in caregiving, the richer all of our lives will be. Primary caregivers get needed respite, all benefit from the various skills each individual brings, and quarterbacks know they were not excluded.