You are a caregiver if you provide social or physical support to an aging relative or friend, or to a person who is disabled. Caregivers may make weekly visits to a sick mother still living on her own or may bring a frail father into their home for care. They may arrange for services for a relative who lives hundreds of miles away.
What caregivers share in common is the fact that they take time and energy from their lives to care for someone who needs their help. Caring for someone on a regular basis is a mixed experience. There are the positive feelings associated with helping others. If you’re caring for your mother, father, or spouse, there is the satisfaction of knowing you are, in some way, returning the support they once provided you.
Caring for a frail relative also has its difficulties accompanied by negative feelings; A sense of isolation, of being alone with a huge responsibility, worry or doubt about the quality of the care they are providing, anger at the lack of time they have for themselves and their families, frustration that this is not what they had planned for this time in their lives, a sense of loss because the person they love has changed so much and so many more.
You may think that you just do not have the time, talent or resources to be a caregiver. But what it really comes down to is simply “being present” for another. While many aspects to caregiving call upon a wide range of skills—cooking, cleaning, bill paying, etc.—the starting, and ending, point is focusing on another person. We may find at times that we are short on funds, skills, or time, but when caring for another, we need to be long on attention. Holding someone’s hand, pulling the chair closer to the bed, putting everything else aside—that’s the heart of being a caregiver for someone you love.
Finding new dreams is crucial to moving forward. Focusing on what is possible; as opposed to what is not, leads to individual growth, self-respect, and development of relationships on a new footing. But the caregiver and the care receiver may not be ready to build new dreams at the same time. The change in roles between primary family members, whether a total reversal or merely a shift in degree, is one of the biggest reasons relationships run into problems. People are forced to play altered roles when illness or disability strikes. The caregiver takes on added responsibilities.
Aging parents are forced to become children, dependent on their own offspring for the very services they used to provide. They need the care, but often resent it, while the adult child may feel a growing resentment at having to become their parent’s parent, especially if they have their own children to rear.
Adjusting to new roles is always challenging, but adjusting to unwanted ones is even more so. That seems to be the source of the problem. A relationship established with one set of definitions now must conform to a new set. Communicate through the pain as with all relationships, the problems in families dealing with illness or disability are often compounded by the fact that people don’t easily talk about what’s bothering them, especially when they perceive their feelings to be negative or socially unacceptable. Speaking up is one of the best ways to reduce feelings of isolation and to relieve some of the emotions you may have inside. It is also a great way to help bring about the changes, which are needed to make the lives of caregiving families much easier.
Despite the difficulties, maintaining good relationships between caregivers and their loved ones is not an impossible task. By keeping these ideas in mind and working at your relationship, while recognizing its limitations, you might find it actually can become stronger in spite of the illness or disability.
- Keep on talking, keep on communicating
- Find creative ways to maintain normalcy
- Take care of yourself
- Keep your sense of humor
- Make conscious decisions about the things you can change and let go of the things you can and let go of the things over which you have no control
- Put your loved one’s illness or disability in its place and keep it from becoming the sole focus of your life
- Avoid pity. Hold your ill or disabled family member accountable and responsible for their actions to the fullest extent possible
- Be patient
- Maintain your individuality, and don’t own a disease or disability that isn’t yours
- Realize that relationships are always in flux, and every problem you encounter is not caused by the disease or disability
- Use a support group as a social outlet and network, not just as a place to talk about your problems