How long has it been since you’ve distanced yourself from caregiving long enough to decide what is good for you? When was the last time you had a guilt-free break from the needs of others? Have you sought out help recently so that you can take some time to recharge and rediscover yourself?
If you haven’t been making yourself a priority over the last year, you’re not alone. Most caregivers face countless mental, financial and logistical hurdles when it comes to participating in self-care. But, the new year is upon us, which is the perfect time for taking inventory of our lives, pinpointing some changes we want to make and adjusting our attitudes to help us see these things through. Changing how you approach your caregiving responsibilities doesn’t mean that you love the person you are caring for any less. To the contrary, changing your mindset can actually be a clear indication of the depth of your love.
What Would Your Elder Want for You?
Let’s face it, our care recipients are often very demanding. After all, they are most likely in frequent emotional distress and/or physical pain. Add to that the fact that they are losing the ability to make decisions about their own life, and you’ve got a crabby person on your hands. This does not mean that your elder doesn’t care about your welfare. It just means that their ill health and age-related losses are preventing them from focusing on anything other than their own misery.
Try to think back to who your care recipient was before they became so difficult. What did they envision for you? What hopes did they have for you and your life? Surely, they wanted you to be happy, healthy and successful. Take these things to heart and keep them at the forefront of your mind when you are making care decisions, because these choices affect you, too.
If you are caring for a loved one who has always been self-absorbed, manipulative or unsupportive, then it is time to carefully examine your relationship, your motivations for caregiving and your boundaries. This responsibility is difficult enough for people who have healthy relationships with their care recipients. Fear, obligation and guilt should not be factors in your day-to-day caregiving. If they are, then you need to take a step back and begin prioritizing your own health and happiness when it comes to setting goals and revamping your care plan for the new year.
Prioritize Self-Care Over Perfection
During the time when I was caring for several elders, I set a poor example of self-care for other family caregivers. While my parents were living in a nursing home, I would visit them every day on my way to work and once more in the evenings on my drive home. I’d make longer visits on weekends as well.
Several times the head nurse at the home told me I needed to take a day off, but I just couldn’t do it. I’d make all kinds of excuses, but mainly I just said, “They need me.” This was a facility that I’d visited nearly every day for over 15 years. The staff was excellent, they had my contact information memorized, they loved my parents and they treated them with great kindness. So why couldn’t I bring myself to take a day off now and then? It wasn’t because I didn’t trust the facility or their employees. I see now that my own attitude was what prevented me from taking better care of myself.
I can think back to one time when I was sick with the flu and couldn’t visit my parents for a few days. You know what? Everyone survived. They not only received the care they needed, but aside from a longer wait for a couple of frills, they really didn’t miss out on much. While unpleasant, this brief illness helped me realize that the world would continue turning even if I didn’t visit multiple times each day and handle every task and request personally. It may seem silly, but this realization is a game changer that comes far too late for many family caregivers.
Did this prompt a lasting attitude change for me? Well, sort of. I did skip a visit now and then, letting my elders know ahead of time. I did try to take better care of myself. But I now know that I didn’t alter my routine enough back then. At least I did change my attitude a little, and small improvements are better than none.
Sticking to Your Resolution
Respite care is the fundamental factor that can help family caregivers really improve their attitudes and care plans. If your elder lives in their own home or has moved in with you, hire an in-home care company to provide a professional caregiver who can take over for a few hours a day or each week. Encourage your loved one to get involved at the local senior center or volunteer, or schedule adult day care for them a couple times a week.
If your loved one is in a senior living facility and you know the care is good, you can pull back from your rigorous visiting schedule. They live there because they need more care and supervision than you alone can provide. Let the staff do what they’re being paid to do and go play hooky every so often. Go to the park, take a bubble bath, see a movie, meet a friend for lunch or do what I did—read a good book. Use this valuable time to do something for yourself.
It may be difficult to accept, but the truth is that you will become a better caregiver if you take care of yourself. A refreshed caregiver is going to be more creative, attentive and patient. Don’t forget that your attitude and body language will tell your care receiver the real story, regardless of how good of a front you put up. When you are well rested, you will really be glad to see your loved one and happy to help them.
To embrace the new year and elevate your caregiving, adjust your attitude and your care plan to include self-care. In the end, everyone will benefit.