3 Tips for Effective Communication with Family Caregivers
As a family caregiver, certified coach, and consultant with a Master's degree in Communications who specializes in training and coaching clients and organizations on effective communication, I decided to pen this post on behalf of myself and my fellow family caregivers. This post was inspired by our collective communication challenges that we have personally experienced with others who are not in the family caregiving space, and things that we desire for these people to know about how to effectively communicate with us on a general, everyday basis.
Please try to refrain from calling or texting a family caregiver in the morning. Most family caregivers I know (including myself) have very odd and irregular schedules. Some family caregivers may be working full time or part time, while also taking care of their loved ones. Other family caregivers may be working full time as a family caregiver. Unlike most people who work a 9-5 and have set schedules, for family caregivers, this is not the life that we live. We don’t get off days from family caregiving and no day is the same for us. Many family caregivers spend long days and nights taking care of their loved ones. We may go to bed at 10:00 pm on one day and at 3:00 am on another day. In the morning, we may still be sleeping/resting, or taking our loved one to a doctor’s appointment. Therefore, it’s best to not call or text a family caregiver in the morning, unless it’s an urgent issue.
This brings me to another point….
It’s generally best to text a family caregiver first before calling that person. As family caregivers, we juggle A LOT. We’re trying to take care of our loved ones and their physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and health-related needs, while also trying to take care of ourselves and our own physical, emotional, mental, spiritual, financial, and health-related needs. At the end of our day, whenever that may be, most family caregivers I know are exhausted and want nothing more to eat, sleep, rest, relax and recharge, before they have to do it all over again the next day. So sometimes, answering the phone or taking phone calls that are non-caregiving related might not be on that family caregiver’s list of priorities on that particular day. So a good tip would be to text the family caregiver first and ask the person when he/she is able to take a phone call….and this brings me to another point…
When reaching out to a family caregiver, either by text or a phone call, please ask the person how he/she is doing first before you ask that person how their loved one is doing. For many family caregivers, our lives revolve around our loved ones, and we are constantly discussing our loved ones with other caretakers, doctors, social workers, and health professionals, and advocating on behalf of our loved ones, whether that’s at a hospital, in a doctor’s office, at the bank, at the assistant living facility, or anywhere else where we have to make sure that our loved one’s needs are met and their voices are being heard. Therefore, when we do get some down time, the last thing that we may want to do on that day is to answer the question: “How is _________ doing?” For those of us who are taking care of loved ones with chronic health issues or mental health challenges, this may be a triggering question, or this may be a loaded question with a complex response. Therefore, I suggest asking the family caregiver how he/she is doing and express to him/her that if he/she ever needs to talk, you are there to listen. Also, when reaching out to a friend or family member who is a family caregiver, I suggest asking that person if he/she has the mental, physical, or emotional capacity to text or talk on the phone FIRST before you begin to unload and share what you need to say, especially if you are texting or calling to vent or discuss your own problems.
BONUS: As it pertains to receiving phone calls, text messages, and other forms of communications from family caregivers: Don’t take it personally or get offended when a friend or loved one who is a family caregiver “goes ghost” or you haven’t heard from that person in awhile. To be quite honest and very transparent, many family caregivers I know don’t have well-balanced personal lives of our own. We don’t mean to not call or not text. In all honesty, we still want and need to have our own social lives, and we want to hear from, reach out to, and spend time with our other family members, friends, and loved ones. However, it doesn’t always happen that way due to constant changes and shifting priorities with our loved ones. So if you are a friend or family member of someone who is a family caregiver, my suggestion is to please be patient with us, extend grace and compassion to us, when needed, but also text us, call us, and reach out to us and invite us to spend time with you.
If you are a family caregiver, I want to hear from you. Did I miss any tips for effective communication? If so, feel free to share your own tip(s) in the comments below.