Staying Balanced as a Caregiver
When you assume the role of caregiver for a loved one facing advanced illness, you give them a precious gift, one that demonstrates your compassion, love, concern, and connection. Caring for your loved one may also give you some sense of control, a feeling that you took on an active role and did your part.
Although you may try very hard to be superwoman or superman, in reality, caring for someone facing a life-limiting illness is not easy. But you can prepare yourself for this important role by considering issues you will face and discovering ways to keep everything in balance. Caring for yourself will help you care better for the one you love.
Here are a few tips for staying balanced …
An honest assessment of all your daily demands will help you set caregiving goals you can actually maintain. Between the demands of family and work alone, you simply won’t be able to be everything for everybody. And although it may seem that your loved one’s needs are more important than the needs of your home, spouse, or job, it is crucial to maintain some balance.
You will need to be realistic about your daily level of involvement when caring for your loved one so you don’t neglect your family or put your work in jeopardy. Plus, the additional stress of taking on too much could begin to take its toll on you personally. It is understandable to want to be by your loved one’s side every day and to personally provide for every need, but it is important to maintain your day-to-day life as well.
Schedule for needs
Scheduling that works for both you and your loved one will be a vital part of planning for long-term care. While it may seem critical for you to be with them for every doctor appointment, consider letting friends, other members of the family, and church members take your place when you need them to. If you live with the one in need of your care, set schedules for regular time apart. This will help you maintain your perspective and make you better at caring for them when you are together. Your loved one may need interactions with others as well. Time apart gives your loved one a chance to speak to others and share feelings and emotions they may not be able to share with you. It may also allow them to feel less of a constant burden.
When beginning long-term care of a loved one, be conservative. You can always increase the frequency and/or length of visits if you find that you or your loved one needs more time together. You don’t want to start out with an overwhelming amount of time and attention, and most likely neither does your loved one. Start off slowly, and determine any changes needed as you go. You can’t do everything, but you can do what matters most: give the loving attention that your loved one needs.
Ask for help
Although it can be difficult to ask for help, and just as difficult to accept offers, it is critical to ask for help when you need it. Learning when to ask can be difficult also, especially for women, who tend to take on too much and give too much of themselves.
Learn to say no
Likewise, now is the time to learn when to say no. Eventually, the need will arise for you to say no to a request made by your loved one or even another family member. You simply can’t do everything and saying no to what you consider to be less important will allow you to better handle the things that you find more important.
If saying no has always been difficult for you, try practicing in front of the mirror. Just begin by getting the word out. After you say no, look for a solution to the problem, a solution that doesn’t involve you, your time, mind, and resources. Finding other solutions will help you say no without feeling guilty about something that went undone.
Stay with your plan, and keep your resolve
Sticking to the plan can be hard, especially if loved ones question you or criticize you for not “doing more.” It’s easy for others to look from the outside in and have no real clue about the difficulties and demands of the caregiving role. Don’t be influenced by what others say or how they feel unless they are directly involved in your loved one’s care and their concerns are relevant.
The care you provide for a loved one may become their emotional equivalent of love, a sign that they are a priority in your life. And while it will help you to understand this, remember it’s really about being the best you can be in this often new and unexpected role. And that means staying balanced.
Take comfort in knowing you are in fact doing your best. Don’t let the impressions of others or feelings of guilt throw off the balance that you need or cloud your perspective. In the end, embarking on the role of caregiver will be a journey that brings you joy and peace. You will capture memories you can take comfort in, spend precious time with your loved one, and gain a sense that you provided something special to someone you love.