By Holly Whiteside
It is said that the two Chinese characters for "crisis" mean both "danger" and "opportunity". When a life event like caregiving lands like a bomb, it initially feels more like the danger element. However, by asking the right questions, the derailment can put you on a powerful new path of opportunity. For me at age 43, the bomb was when my mother, who I had been avoiding since I was 14, came to live near me. The quality of my questions were suddenly critical to my emotional survival.
As I moved into the terrain of caregiving, the questions that fueled my survival and personal growth evolved from, "To what am I committed?" and "How can I give without giving myself away?" to "What is the source of my energy and peace?" and then "What would be available to me if I opened my heart to my mother?" Those four little questions point to a broad range of experiences. I answered them by applying to myself the life coaching principles that I had been learning and teaching others as a life coach. By the end of my decade with Mom, we had forged a loving relationship.
After Mom died, I asked two questions, "Who am I if I am not a caregiver?" and "Can what I have learned about thriving during caregiving be of some use to others?"
I documented the principles that had kept me sane and tested them out by coaching other caregivers. Then I wrote "The Caregiver's Compass", a handbook of simple tools for gaining greater emotional and life balance, with the intent of helping the reader to discover their own positive experience.
So, what are the questions that a mindful caregiver might ask in order to be more peaceful as well as more effective?
Fundamental questions a caregiver might ask
In this one-and-only moment, what are my choices, inner and outer?
Since all we have is the present moment, the choices we make Now cause everything that follows. Everything hangs on the momentary question and its subsequent choice.
What "stories" do I tell myself about caregiving that make it harder?
Our inner stories give us our emotional experience of life, so we'd better make up good ones. Life-serving ones.
What are my strengths and survival habits?
A knee-jerk positive attitude can blind you to the truth. The need to be right can have you miss important learning opportunities. Which survival habits are undermining your effectiveness? Which will help you to succeed?
What am I resisting that I might begin to allow?
Most energy sinks are cause by resisting someone or something. Therefore the more we can accept and allow, the less energy we waste.
When is my helping actually disempowering my Elder/loved one? Or Am I trying to fix your loved ones life, or empower her/him?
The two often work at cross purposes.
What are my expectations?
Expectations frequently trip you up. Identify your expectations of caregiving, your family members, and yourself. Whenever possible, consider lowering the bar.
When choosing caregiving, the key word is choose. Fall haphazardly into caregiving, buffeted by memories and emotions, and you will have a rougher trip. But take a step back to return yourself to the present moment and new choices become available. When I first entered caregiving, I packed a well-stocked survival kit, but then life called for a new way—not just new actions but a new way of relating to the whole situation. The questions you ask reveal choices which give you the quality of your caregiving experience.
Holly Whiteside has been a life coach since 1990, was a caregiver for 10 years, and has been a caregiver's coach for five years. Her MindfulCaregiving coaching is a survival toolkit for caregivers. She authored "The Caregiver's Compass", a handbook for emotional balance. Her personal memoir, "Exploring Hell and Other Warm Places", lays out her inspiring (though at times hair-raising) path of learning, her mother/daughter caregiving story. Both are available at amazon and her website, www.MindfulCaregiving.net.