Caregivers: Know Thyself
We work with 100%. That’s all we have. It’s the most we can give. It can’t be stretched—be it a 24-hour day or our energy.
If we understand what’s required of us and are pretty good at organizing, we can thoughtfully work out and adopt a routine–a balance–that integrates with the other parts of our life.
But what do we do when, as often happens over time, part of the equation changes? If it requires more of us, do we give more? Then do we give less to the remaining part of our life?
Simply put: we learned in high school math, how to balance an equation. Can we make that happen in our life?
Being caregivers for aging parents requires adjustments on our part as their needs change. When our responsibilities mount and more time is required, ideally we make commensurate changes in other parts of our life to consciously balance things.
Yet imbalance can sneak up on us without our realizing it. And the unbalanced equation, if ignored, leads to burn out, stress, and feelings of being overwhelmed because we’re trying to handle everything as before. Once we realize our problem and its cause, we can act to de-stress and rebalance our life.
The first key is to recognize the problem. The second is to think about how we best de-stress ourselves. The third key is to carve out time and discipline ourselves to include de-stress time in our over-busy life.
Additional de-stressors include getting help and support from others. (See “Related” below.)
On a personal level, for a while I am going to post on Saturdays only. Being away from NY for a long period of time has changed the equation for me and I need to carve out more time for new responsibilities. I also realize I need to follow my own advice. While this is the last Tuesday post for a while, I and my Sr. Advisors will be back every Saturday night. See you then.
Changing often: “Of Current Interest.” Timely links to research and information from top universities, plus some fun stuff to help parents age well.
There is a wonderful book called: A Bittersweet Season Caring for our aging parents and ourselves. By Janet Gross It was very helpful to provide some insights from someone who has been there.
This looks like a book that will resonate with many–by Janet Gross, the journalist who began the New Old Age column for the NY Times. For this reason, I’ve included the link. I liked what I read! Thanks so much for the suggestion, Deborah.
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Knowing thyself as a caregiver involves the understanding of positives and negatives.
For seven years my husband and I were caregivers for his mother. Initially, she moved to our area and into a supportive independent living retirement community. This arrangement worked well for three years. Then we entered into a crisis phase for six months due to a cycle of falls, hospitalizations, and rehabs. In an attempt to end this “vicious cycle,” my mother-in-law moved into our home and I became the primary caregiver. The arrangement went well for two years before we inevitably hit the slippery slope of decline, which lasted another two years until her death. Those last two years were very difficult.
After our journey was over, I wanted to turn what had become quite negative into a positive once again. I (along with my co-author) wrote a book about caregiving, What to Do about Mama? A Guide to Caring for Aging Family Members, and am in the process of promoting the book on social media sites, an area in which my experience is practically nil. My oldest daughter is helping me with this endeavor.
This brings me to the point I am addressing: What’s positive and what’s negative? Although my daughter is proud of my accomplishment of authoring a published book, and although she believes the book has value for “people who need it,” the book in and of itself makes her uncomfortable. Simply, it feels negative to her. Isn’t it ironic that I wrote a book to turn a negative into a positive, but that it feels negative?
Of course, as a mother, I’ve been a caregiver most of my life. But for me, caregiving for children is a hopeful process of building and preparing for the future. But caregiving for an aging parent is in contrast trying to make the final path as comfortable and trauma-free as possible by doing the best you can day by day.
I think your last two sentences say it all, Barbara. Of course no one is perfect And when we do the latter to the best of our ability, we basically have no regrets (a positive). This isn’t always true with parenting, however. We can do our best and we can still have regrets (I know this well from my many years of counseling). Wishing you good luck with your book
Thank you so much for your informative article. I am a care giver for my husband and it can be taxing at times especially when dealing with my own health issues. I know that by balancing my life and getting outside help when I need it has made all the difference. I will continue to read your posts as they will help me in my quest to provide excellent care for my husband.
Obviously you know well the juggling and balancing it takes. Caring for a spouse is, I think, the most consuming caregiving in many ways, making it harder to carve out “me-time.”
“In your heart you know you need help but you don’t reach out–even when it’s handed to you,” said a wise friend, whose 6’6″ husband had serious illness. While I always thought a very good friend, who knows–in this instance your husband–could be asked to help at those critical times when “me-time” is needed, there are caregiver obstacles: from not wanting to risk embarrassing or undermining dignity to giving up control or simply unwillingness to ask for (or accept) help. But one must feel comfortable doing this and I believe it takes a conversation between spouses to get to this comfort level. It’s a good subject for a post. I’ve put it on my list. Thank you, Loma, for the comment.
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