Caregivers Must Realize That Imperfection Is Good Enough

  • I was a part of the sandwich generation before the term was ever coined. I was also a people pleaser.  And never was that combination more apparent than during the holidays.


    My mother had always loved holidays and made a big deal out of them. When I had children, I followed in her footsteps. So, when my kids were very young, they had Christmas at home and two Christmas celebrations at their grandparents' homes.


    Then the elders' health started failing. For a time, I was decorating my mother's apartment because she could no longer do that, my dad's nursing home room, my in-law's condo and my own home. I remember one Thanksgiving, when my mother-in-law was ill, I ran from house to house cooking in two different homes, then driving food to all homes, plus running dinner to my neighbor, plus making sure my kids had a "nice" holiday, as well. Whew!

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    My children grew into teenagers, and my elders continued their downward health spiral. Eventually, with three ill elders still living, I needed to place them all in one nursing home just blocks from my house. So, this is how holidays went:


    I had decorated everyone's room weeks before, plus my own house, of course. I normally went to the nursing home every morning anyway, so holiday mornings were no different, except they were more festive, as I hauled gifts and special food, as well. The preceding day, the children had visited the elders who couldn't be brought to our home. They often entertained the elders with songs played on their musical instruments.


    I need to add that we did try bringing the elders who we thought could make it to our home.  Eventually we quit trying because it became evident that the trek made them more agitated and worn out than it was worth. They didn't feel comfortable and weren't having a good time. That is when we decided to let them stay in their own rooms at the nursing home, and I'd do the running.


    Back to the morning of the holiday. I'd get up and put a turkey in the oven. I'd already made pies and dressing and whatever else I could get done ahead of the big day. After the turkey began roasting, I'd go to Rosewood and see my mother, who expected me early to help her choose her clothing, fill her ice bucket and do other sundry details that made her happy. On holidays, that of course included opening cards and gifts and making her breakfast special with extra goodies. Then I would move on to my mother-in-law and my dad.


    After a couple of hours at the nursing home, I would go home and work on the holiday dinner and get ready for my sister and her kids to come for our meal and to open gifts. We'd have dinner, visit and exchange presents, and then my sister and her kids would go to the nursing home to see our parents before she'd travel the 40 miles back to her home.


    But all of this wasn't enough to satisfy the onlookers. I was criticized by many for not eating Thanksgiving and Christmas dinner at the nursing home with our elders, even though they all had each other as well as friends to eat with.


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    What people didn't realize is that if I'd taken my children to the nursing home for the meals each holiday, my kids would not, for 15 years of their lives, have had a holiday meal in their own home. How fair to them would that be? It's not just one meal, it's a child's memories. 


    Caregivers have choices to make. We sometimes have to draw lines in the sand. My line was that my children would have a home cooked holiday dinner and at least some of my attention on those important days, so they would have some memories of home holidays. Of course, they also have memories of Mom racing around trying to do everything for everyone. But I wanted something to be normal for them. And the meal was what I chose.


    My sister and I joke that we raised our kids in a nursing home. In many ways we did. But we did refuse to give up everything for the elders. Kids count, too. And, believe it or not, so does the caregiver.


    Each of you will make different decisions for these holidays. Each of you will make sacrifices. Each of you will have an imperfect holiday and so will your elders and your children. You'll have to decide what is most important for each of them, and for you. And then you will do what you need to do - imperfectly. And then, if you are smart, you will let it go. Good enough has to be good enough. If people criticize you, that is their problem.


    You deserve at least a semi-happy holiday as much as your elders and your children. Let go of perfection so you can at least have that.


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Published On: December 29, 2008