I try to teach my children as I was taught – to think of others before you think of yourself. I think most of us try our darndest to live this way, especially when it comes to caring for our loved ones. So what’s the problem? That sounds like a great philosophy.
Many caregivers aim to be selfless, which can be destructive for not only themselves, but their loved ones. Caregivers need to be considerate, not selfless, and there is a big distinction.
Those who are selfless give everything they have to others. These caregivers give their time, energy, resources, and emotions away, leaving little if anything for them. Of course selflessness comes with good intentions for the most part (martyrdom will be saved for another time), but it is destructive nonetheless.
Have you ever lacked the energy to go for a walk or spend time with your friends? Have you ever been unable to be happy at a joyous occasion because emotionally you were somewhere else? When was the last time you saw your physician? Have you been putting off a weekend away?
Many of you probably see your life in those questions. Of course you have put off your evening walks, doctor appointments, and time with friends; your mother needs you.
Your mother needs you. You.
How many of you truly feel like you? Do you feel like a different person after years, or even just months of caregiving? Have you lost a part of who you truly are?
You have been giving yourself away. And if you really want to care for your loved ones, it’s time to take some of it back. It’s time to get you back. It’s time to consider you.
If you are wide eyed and gasping right now, you’re likely wondering how you can give the same quality of care if you are being so selfish to take time for yourself. My friend and caregiving expert, Dr. Amy D’Aprix, had this to say in our recent online chat about Techniques to De-stress from the Toll of Caregiving:
“I believe that care decisions should be made with consideration to how they impact the entire family – not only the older adult. A care decision that appears good for the older family member but burns out the rest of the family is not a good decision – it needs to be workable for everyone. Remember that the goal isn’t that you, alone, provide all of the care for your mom.”
Stop and think about the goal. The top priorities are safety and quality of life. Everything after that is icing on the cake.
Perhaps you have siblings that don’t help as often as they should. It’s time to have a “come to Jesus” talk about them pitching in however they can. Clearly (and calmly – however difficult it may be) explain what your loved one needs. Dr. Amy recommends making a list of caregiving tasks that need to be done. Show your siblings the list and ask what they can do. If you need some tips on communicating with your siblings, check out The 50-50 Rule: Solving Family Conflict.
It’s also a good idea to keep that list and a calendar with you. You never know when a friend or someone from church will ask how they can help. It is time to stop thanking people for their kind words and offers and take them up on it. People want to help; they just don’t know what help you need. Pull out that list and calendar and tell them what help you need.
So what are you going to do with your extra time now? Take a nap, get your hair done, meet friends for lunch or drinks, do anything that fills your emotional, physical, or spiritual cup. This is you time! You are rebuilding you.
Likely the first few times, you will worry about Mom. It’s okay. Eventually, you may get to a place where you know she is fine, and you’ll realize she’ll be better because you are taking care of her caregiver.
I’m not a doctor, and I don’t play one on this blog, but if I were, I would remove the selflessness and prescribe quality you time.