The family is like a mobile. To function as it should, its many parts need to be in balance.
Similarly, to function as it should, each family member needs to be able to do his or her part to maintain the balance.
We all know (indeed perhaps we are) adult children who devote almost all their time, energy etc. as caregivers to aging parents, at their emotional and physical expense.
The reasons are as varied as people themselves. Possible reasons: love, guilt, sense of duty, the rescuer response, no one else to help, no money to hire help. Or there may be reasons we’re completely unaware of like psychological baggage from our childhood.
Many adult children handle things at arm’s length; and still others choose not to be involved in caregiving at all. Indeed, they may be siblings who could contribute more and improve the balance, but don’t.
Yet there is one universal given: A person has only 100% to give (be it time, energy, patience, caring, love, attention…or to our job and our marriage). Thoughtfully reallocating that 100% to meet the demands of caregiving is key to a maintaining the balance so a family continues to function well. (A highly regarded divorce reseacher in the ’70’s, speaking of single parents’ coping, noted “even an 8-year-old can vacuum.”) Similarly the mobile must be somehow readjusted to maintain the balance if one piece is moved a bit.
That said, to recapture lost balance, takes either the ability to successfully delegate or the decision to get help from an experienced professional, which can be priceless. “Experienced professional” being the operative expression, is usually a social worker trained in family counseling and understanding the elderly. They’ve heard the problems, know the complexities and pitfalls, and have no doubt helped countless adult children who care for aging parents. But there are 2 stumbling blocks.
1. Being willing to accept help
2. Making that first phone call
When we’re stressed–not to mention overly stressed–adding one more “to do” feels impossible. That old expression “stop the world I want to get off” fits our mood. But our parents and our family need us, so how do we convince ourselves to remove the stumbling blocks?
Can we carve out a few minutes to make that initial call for an appointment and explain our needs? Time spent with a professional experienced in helping families can shed light on available options, family dynamics and should result in suggestions to reduce the ongoing stress. (Also learn about geriatric social workers. They specialize in helping those 65+.) And if we’re a single person-caregiver trying to cram more than one can imagine into a 24-hour day, or a single parent with the same challenge, we can use help–or most likely will need help in the future.
Check out local social service agencies (eg. Catholic Charities, Jewish Community or Family Services, local family counseling agencies/services). They usually take insurance and have a sliding scale for payment (people pay according to their ability). Some clergy who have taken pastoral counseling courses may be helpful, at the least in suggesting appropriate agencies.
Based on my experience, the families who do best when aging parents need caregiving, are those who have had the (usually) grandparent living in the family home or in such close proximity that it’s basically attached or in another wing of the family home. A relationship with family members is already in place. That said, bringing aging parents to live with your family has drawbacks.
Part 2 will address when in-laws need cargiving, spouses’s roles, and therapists (psychiatrist and psychologist).
Resources: Google local “family counseling services”
Related: “Family as a mobile” is part of “Family Systems Theory, explained by Lynne Namka–“ Your family is a system. How one person in the system acts effects the behavior of the next and so on. Members of a system are like the moving pieces of a mobile. The behavior of one person in the system affects the others just as touching one object of a mobile sets the whole system moving. One family member’s mood and behavior influence the others.”
Changing often: “Of Current Interest”(right sidebar). Links to timely information and research from top universities, plus some free and some fun stuff–to help parents age well.