I’ve been busy. Flat-out busy. And without any free time on the weekends, it has been hard keeping up with Mum. We still had our Saturday visits, and I tried to reframe them as a "break." A change is supposed to be as good as a rest, but it didn't really work.

Each Saturday things started out okay, but after a couple of hours I would get antsy and start worrying about all the other things I was not doing. By the 5 PM dinner deadline, when I take Mum back to the rest home, I was exhausted just from keeping up the charade.

I swear Mum could tell. Her empathy radar is highly sensitive.

The problem was, I didn't not want to visit—I just didn't have the time.

In rest homes, despite everyone's best efforts, time hangs heavy. Weekends can be deadly, especially if you don't have someone to take you out. The enthusiastic recreation officer is away and the chatty receptionist is off duty. Each Saturday as Mum and I breeze out across the main lounge and through the door, the envy from the stay-home residents is palpable. Mum feels bad for them too.

The other problem is that lately, Mum’s been fretting about taking up my time. Not wanting to be any trouble had become a constant concern for her, even before my life got full-on busy.

Work-life balance is an interesting concept. As far as Mum’s concerned, work should happen between the hours of 8 AM and 5 PM, Monday through Friday. The work day should also be broken up by tea breaks, morning and afternoon, plus a good hour for lunch. (Unless you’re a farmer, which I’m not.)

So, she tells me I shouldn't work weekends, that I should stick to my hours and reminds me how the Labor Party fought for the 40-hour week.

For me, the problem is not trying to balance work with the rest of my life. Instead, it’s about finding ways to do a good enough job at all the things that matter. It is about Mum and me both feeling OK.

When I’m stuck about what to do with Mum, I try to imagine what her advice would have been before Alzheimer’s disease stuffed things up. “For heaven’s sake,” she would have said, “get someone else to take your mother out!”

So, a couple of weeks back, I delegated my Saturday visit to Mr. Sixteen. He happily escorted his grandmother to their favorite cafe for afternoon tea. By all accounts they had an excellent time, and Mum has no recollection that I wasn't there.

Why I didn’t arrange that three weeks in a row, I can’t imagine.

Sarah Jane is a freelance writer/researcher and part-time caregiver for her mother Eleanor* who has dementia and lives at a rest home nearby. Sarah and her mother spend Saturdays enjoying each other’s company, pottering about and having the occasional adventure. Sarah lives in New Zealand where she writes and speaks about dementia-related issues.

Visit Saturdays with Mum

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