Once upon a time, as preparation for a telephone interview, a producer asked me to post a question on my Web site, so people could have some input ahead of the interview. The question was, "What have you, personally, had to give up, as a caregiver?"
Web visitors had a lot to say, and much of it was repetitive. This is to be expected, since we all face many similar situations (thus the success of peer support groups). Also, much of it didn't have a lot to do with the original question.
The questions and statements did give us a jumping off place for a lively phone interview. Today, I was looking for something entirely different, when I came across these questions. Thinking that I didn't need them anymore, I was going to delete the document. Then I started re-reading the questions, and became engrossed in thinking of how I'd answer them in written, rather than spoken, form (can you tell I'm easily distracted?). That, of course, was one short step to actually starting to write answers, which, of course, I wanted to share with you. So, here are some musings about these caregiving questions.
1. How can I care, but not care too much, as an adult child?
Learn to detach. You can't change your parents or their situation. The only thing you can change is your attitude. This is easier said than done, I know. You may need support from a group or a professional to do that.
2. What can I do about my health?
Realize that if you skip your checkups, don't treat your depression, don't take time to relax, you will not be an effective caregiver. You are just as important as the person you are caring for. Don't neglect your health for theirs. They need to be taught, from the beginning, that you will take care of yourself as well as them. If they could think straight, that is what they would want.
3. What about time with my family?
Again, if your parents' minds were normal, they wouldn't want you to sacrifice time with your children and your husband. Obviously, in the real world, you will need to make these sacrifices. There is only so much time in a day. I spoiled my elders way too much. Then their expectations were so high that, when I had to pull back, it was worse than if I had started out with more a more balanced view of everyone's needs.
4. I feel like I've sacrificed my freedom.
You have. But, like time with your family, you need to try to find balance and get some of that freedom back. There will be some hurt feelings. And you will never be totally free, as a caregiver is on call 24/7 - even if the person being cared for is in a facility. But you need to line up some kind of dependable respite care, so you can have a little time without worrying about everyone else.
5. Giving away time during 'working hours' is a sacrifice since it almost always translates into loss of income.
Women, particularly, seem apt to sacrifice promotions, transfers and other options that may help their income, in order to care for their elders. Of course some men do the same. An employer may look at someone who has needed time off for elder care as not reliable enough for a promotion. Sometimes it's just about not enough hours in a day. It is a difficult issue, and employers are going to need to address this, as they have had to address child care. Unfortunately, real answers to this dilemma are still out on the horizon.
6. Sometimes caregiving interferes with my husband, children and grandchildren. I have to choose my parents.
Most of us go into elder care thinking that it is short-term, so that our children, grandchildren and spouses can sacrifice a bit and wait it out. Unfortunately, due to better care after strokes and other ailments that, at one time, killed people, caregiving can go on for years. We need to realize that this is likely not short-term, and start out with some balance so the whole family doesn't fall apart while we watch our parents. My son has chronic health problems. It was always very difficult to decide who needed help most - my son or the elders. Yet, it doesn't hurt kids and spouses to see you caring for the older generation. That is a good example. Again, it's about balance.
7. It was definitely a challenge to raise such young children and try to spend time each weekend being supportive of elderly parents who lived in a different town.
My sister had small children, and still traveled fifty miles nearly every weekend to see my parents. She was very loyal. It was often hard for her. She had a full-time job, as well. My biggest mistake there, was not taking the day off, when she went to all that trouble to come to town and see our parents. One daughter visiting should have been enough, but I still felt I had to go to the nursing home, even on the days my sister went.
8. I had to give up everything extracurricular like hobbies and entertainment.
These are things that keep us healthy and balanced. I gave up most of what I did, but I'm a reader, and I did try to find time to lose myself in a novel, from time to time. I didn't do it as much as I should have.
Again - you are as important as the person or people you are caring for. You will wish each day was about ten hours longer, so you could have that time for yourself. The only problem is, if it were that long - you'd likely fill it with doing things for others. STOP!!! Make a little quiet time the first thing on your list. Then you can help others. You will be more effective, less resentful, and healthier.
Published On: July 13, 2007