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  • Writer's pictureCharmaine 'C-Maine' Jennings

Caregiver Clash & Dash: Danger or Care?


Family Fruition | September 2021 | by Charmaine Jennings, Ed.S.

“Girl Fight!!!!! Welcome to The Rumble in the Kitchen Jungle!” We want a clean fight! No use of sharp knives or other kitchen tools!

This would be the opening announcement or headline of our unpopular in-home reality TV show moment. Two women, both caregivers, one fifty and the other in her mid-forties. Each stood about 4 feet apart exchanging snarls and looks of pure confusion. If looks could kill one would be clueless and the other dead. Before any blood was shed, the 40 year old bolted. She dashed out of the room. But wait! Before anyone can declare one as the winner and the other a big coward, let’s get the full story:

Have you ever run away from a fight or harmful situation?

If so, why? If you never have, please don’t judge those of us who have plenty of experience. At 40+ years old, I am trying to better monitor my fight, flight or freeze responses. There is no shame in escaping physical, verbal, emotional or other types of danger. So...why did I feel like I let myself down because I chose not to fight? The fight or flight response means to take action to eliminate the danger, except one makes the choice to leave while the other looks danger in the eye. The freeze response means to become immobile. Each has a strategic place as each of us determine how to handle unusual situations.



Flashback four days prior to the Caregiver Clash & Dash reality TV show moment. There was a family meeting scheduled which included my uncle, aunt and husband. We needed to decide who would handle specific household responsibilities during my aunt’s trip. I had the pleasure of preparing lunch and dinner meals for my uncle during my aunt’s international family visit. This included managing the communication between the morning and evening caregivers. My uncle is physically impaired and has health related issues that require 24 hour care to ensure hygiene regiments, medications, and adequate food choices and portions are administered. My husband and I created a meal plan based on the foods available in the house. Each meal included a meat, starch and green vegetable. I was feeling pretty confident and well organized. At the start of the week, I posted the complete meal schedule (i.e. breakfast options, lunch and dinner) onto the refrigerator. Lunch and dinner meals were portioned and pre-prepped. I asked the morning caregivers to write down my uncle’s blood sugar levels and the foods provided. This was a slightly new procedure for each of the caregivers, but most embraced the process.

Write the vision and make it plain (Hab. 2:2)!
Right?! Wrong!

Why was the evening caregiver not following the plan? What needed to happen in order to help her honor the expectations?

If there are two visions, there is clearly DIVISION within a team dynamic! Houston...we have a HUGE problem!

Except, I was completely unaware of what was happening!



Verbal reminders were provided for the evening caregiver to communicate which foods were provided and actually consumed. This was met with irritability.

Frustrated, she said, “He doesn’t like the food.”
I replied with a mellow voice, “Okay, which foods?”
"He doesn’t like these vegetables."
"Okay, he may be given a replacement vegetable."
She sighed, “Why? If he doesn’t want any vegetables! You can’t make him eat your food.”

I took a deep breath trying to keep my face even and my voice neutral. This became harder and harder to do because her voice was getting increasingly loud and firm. I looked at her and paused.

She wanted to give him an additional portion of roasted sweet potatoes glazed with brown sugar and cinnamon per my uncle’s request. This was strike one! The next day a similar exchange occurred between us. She did not record which foods she offered, replaced and/or revised. Strike two!

The next day I decided to speak with my uncle in front of her to establish clear expectations. I attempted to get the caregiver’s attention 3 to 4 times by calling her name. She refused to engage. To ensure that she wasn’t wearing earbuds, I waved my hand from across the room and called her name a little louder. She slowly turned around and sighed as if she was upset. I asked if she was okay. She did not respond, but looked at me as if I was the big inconvenience keeping her from washing the dishes. It was clear that she heard me the first 2-3 times that I called her name. She had all of the warning signs: Rapid breathing. Elevated heart rate. Tense muscles. Dilated pupils.

Perhaps a wise person would have picked a different time. Maybe I should have waited until she was in a better mood, but this wasn’t about her. My uncle’s care was the priority. I said,

“Uncle, to ensure that we are all communicating well, please share any issues about the food with me since I am the cook. My feelings will not be hurt by any means. You can replace a starch with a starch or vegetable with a different vegetable. These expectations are in place based on your dietary needs and your wife’s instructions. Please don’t burden the caregiver with complaints, etc.,. Please do not stress her out about the menu. She serves the food that is provided.”

That is when the FIGHT happened! She was like a pressure cooker that had exploded.

She was ready to face the danger and my face was the target! She lashed out! She began to verbally share several things about the meal plan that she despised. She endears my uncle like a father so she said, “He is the head of this household. He should be able to eat whatever he wants, whenever he wants. I don't come to your house telling you what to eat and when to eat. He deserves respect.”

My feet couldn’t move but I was attentive. Completely alert, I tilted my head to the side wondering, How did we get here? What is happening? She was steaming. My muscles were tense and I was shocked. I felt like I was a studio audience member watching this scene happen in slow motion. This was a true out-of-body experience. She kept talking to me, but my ears somehow pressed the mute button on her for a few seconds. Perhaps my blood pressure was high at this point. When the audio in my ears came back...

She continued with, “Teachers like you enjoy flexing your authority, but it is abusive. I do not tolerate abuse, especially towards elderly adults and children. Making him take his medicine before he is allowed to eat is abuse. Why can’t he eat what he wants? He doesn’t need a schedule. When I arrive at work, if he tells me that he is hungry, I am going to feed him no matter the schedule. Diabetics must eat at least five times per day. I didn’t like how you spoke to your uncle. I won’t be belittled by you or anyone. I also had to tell my last employers the same thing."

I stood near the kitchen door frozen. My quick self-reflection thoughts were...

“Did she just chastise me for making sure that my uncle complains to me and not her? Does she realize I am preventing her from being the middleman? Did she just accuse me of being an adult and child abuser? Does she truly believe that structure and schedules are considered abuse?"

My first spoken words were to my uncle. I turned away from her and asked him...

“Do you have any questions uncle?”

He sighed and said...


My feet were finally able to move so I dashed out of the room in order to get as far away from her as possible. Now, MY heart rate was high, breathing elevated, muscles tense, pupils dilated with a completely dry mouth. I was ready to verbally FIGHT back, but couldn’t. I don’t get permission to be reckless with my words just because someone else questions the processes and protocols of the house. This was my process for calming down. Besides, who knew what was really going on inside of her. People typically reveal the symptoms of an issue, not the root cause. She clearly had several issues that upset her beyond the meal options.



What is harm and what is care? How can two caregivers effectively collaborate when they have different definitions?

Clearly her definition was foreign to me and I was done with trying to talk to her! I was offended and slightly unsure why she was unable to recognize that I was removing her as a filter for my uncle’s complaints. I was right to take flight, but I couldn’t stop rehearsing what I wished I would have said at that moment. Each hypothetical scenario ended in me telling her to leave the house and never to return. Speaking in anger serves no one, especially during sensitive moments.

“A wise man holds his tongue. Only a fool blurts out everything he knows; that only leads to sorrow and trouble. (Proverbs 10:14)”

So now what? Where do we go from here? There were a few more days before my aunt returned back onto U.S. soil and I certainly had to interact with this person. I knew that I was still upset because I cringed at the mention of her name. I decided to give myself a 24 hour time-out to cool off. I prayed for clarity and for her to also gain perspective. The next day she approached me and asked for a hug. A hug?! I thought to myself, does she have a knife in her hand? Is this real? Is she on medication? She was like a different person. I reluctantly gave her a hug and waited for her response. She apologized for lashing out and clarified her concerns. She admitted that my uncle reminded her of her deceased father who was abused in a nursing home prior to his passing. She thinks it’s important to give individuals with special needs respect, voice and choice no matter their age. I nodded my head and fully agreed.

Once she stopped speaking, I began to share my thoughts. First, I applauded her level of advocacy for my uncle and was thankful that she wants him to be happy. Second, I established that her desire to be spoken to with respect is valid but she seriously needs to practice what she preached. Starting with respecting the expectations set by my aunt (i.e. her employer) and the family members that she left legally responsible (i.e. as temporary guardians) for my uncle's care.

“Be the change that you expect to see.” -Gandhi

The problem was still alarming because we had not yet uncovered the big question. In this case, we had already experienced a life lesson regarding communication and respect. But the root of the issue couldn't be found until we realized the compelling questions.

“What is effective care and what is considered harm?

Reflection time allowed me to uncover why I became so offended by the evening caregiver’s accusation. I always try to provide care, equity, voice and choice in my professional and private life, especially for the special needs community. My teen daughter has an Autism diagnosis and uses a communication device to speak. When she was a little child everyone wanted to give her everything. This included excusing all of her misbehaviors. Maybe it was because she was cute or a little girl? I believe it was largely because of her diagnosis. However, her behavioral challenges were not always Autism related. People regularly acted or reacted to her in a way that resembled sympathy instead of empathy and empowerment.

They believed, based on the definition of care that my daughter should be given privileges in childhood that I knew would set her up for future problems. I believed that this was toxic enabling. I was constantly told, "It's okay if she wants to take that toy or piece of candy. She can have it for free!" In their minds it was okay for her to have a temper tantrum (i.e. scream or throw items on the flor) just because she couldn't have the chocolate chip cookie from the grocery store bakery. People believed that she was too fragile to be given high expectations. I chose to parent her based on her abilities and the future potential of her combined skills. Now she is a teenager who can handle being told no, eats a balanced diet and understands that using her communication device and/or sign language is the best way to get what she wants. She knows that her parents will always prioritize her needs above her wants.

My uncle is no exception. I encourage him to believe that he can stand up using his prosthetic legs and exercise. He is often reluctant and lacks the self-confidence, but he does it each time! I also convince him that a healthy diet and staying active will permit him to have the sweet treats he thoroughly enjoys within reason. Good food choices will decrease his medication doses and overall pill consumption. Often, caregivers will gravitate towards the immediate emotional reward of being the patient's pleaser. They work for the big smile, laugh or joyful hug that is immediately given when the patient’s wants are met. Everyone involved learned valuable lessons, but the big question has challenged each of us to keep the conversation going.

What is care and what is harm? Who is at fault? Who is responsible if a patient, child, and/or client requests something that causes health related problems?


Care or Harm | Which approach is considered effective care? Which approach is causing harm or danger? How do you distinguish between a need and/or a want? What is your approach when providing care for a child/client or patient with special needs?


Fight! Flight! Freeze! | How do you handle conflicts? What strategies do you use? Do you think about your fight, flight or freeze responses? Are your responses helping and/or hurting your relationships with others?

Other Articles to Gain More Information/Ideas:


Thank you to Walter Jennings, my devoted husband and friend who took the time to edit this blog!



What is considered effective care and/or harm?

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[Life will give you an opportunity to learn something new. You are being called to action. Challenges will develop that force you to ask compelling questions. Be patient! You are on the journey towards real change. "For many are called, but few are chosen." -Matthew 22:14 Accept the call, embrace the challenges and unveil the change that will happen as a result.]


Charmaine Jennings, Ed.S.

Educator Consultant, Life Coach & Artist

A national professional leadership and learning trainer for K-12 district administrators, principals, coaches and teachers. A champion for diversity, equity and inclusion.


1 Comment

Nina Smith
Nina Smith
Sep 03, 2021

I believe is an important issue for caregivers. I too battle with fulfilling a want for my parent that I know is not a healthy choice. Great

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