Caregivers are amazing
What would it be like if you had no one to sit with you after surgery, to bring you soup and magazines and help you get back and forth to the bathroom?
How would you get along if you started to lose your memory, but had no one you trusted to help take over your financial and administrative responsibilities?
And if you were involved in a traumatic car accident and couldn’t take care of your young children. Not only would you need a caregiver, but your children also would.
We could think of countless scenarios of needing amazing caregivers.
We will all be a caregiver or need a caregiver eventually
I think about this a lot since my son was born. He was born six years ago with a rare genetic syndrome limiting his ability to function independently as he grows old.
Our culture values independence, not interdependence. Risky business for people who will inevitability fall prey to need help. Or, be put in a position of needing to help others.
Maybe it’s the way the geneticist delivered the news of his syndrome, “You’ll be living with an adult child for the rest of your life.” Her words felt like a slap in the face and six years later, I’m still trying to gain my footing. They haunt me and echo in my mind late at night.
Those words forced me to face the role of a caregiver far earlier than I ever expected. When I envisioned being a mom, I didn’t envision being a long-term caregiver of my adult child. Moms are caregivers of little people, I thought. Not great big grown-up people.
A caregiver is someone who regularly looks after someone in need, whether they are a child. Or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.
Caregivers as moms
As a mom, my job is to help my little beings who start out as completely dependent on me, become completely independent of me. It’s a hard job, even if it goes as planned. However, when you parent someone, like my son, who’s abilities and capabilities are still to be determined it becomes a whole different role. I suspect his needs will extend my role as his caregiver for quite some time.
It doesn’t matter which choose-your-own-adventure my son’s story turns out to be — given what he has to work with — it will most likely be hard. Up until his birth, I didn’t think much about being a caregiver. I thought that would happen when my parents became elderly, long after my children were gone from my house.
Redefining the role of a caregiver
To me being a caregiver has a more long-suffering and burdensome connotation. I’ve been trying to find a way out from under this type of thinking. I’ve been to a couple of conference sessions, read a few articles, and talked to numerous people about what it means to be an effective caregiver without getting burnt out.
Practical strategies to caregiving are all necessary and good, but what I realized in my search is that no amount of healthy eating, exercise, and meditation is going to curb my circumstances or cure my child’s condition. I discovered that’s what I was in search of — some days I just want the magic fix.
Ironically caregivers often suffer from more health and emotional problems than someone who isn’t actively caring for another person. This makes getting a handle on how to effectively be a caregiver essential to self-care.
So instead of coming up with my own self-help plan, I boiled caregiving down to three essential things for me to remember.
3 things for caregivers to remember
- It’s not self-care if it feels like work. Hobbies are great if they truly are something you enjoy, but they can quickly become overwhelming if you are trying to learn something new or if it demands too much of your attention. If your hobby is something that is an outlet for you, great. If not, hydrating and practicing deep breaths as you go about your day can be a simple way of caring for yourself. Anything you do to care for yourself that leaves you feeling more exhausted afterward, is not ultimately helpful.
- Writing is a lifeline to your emotions. Some people, like me, could sit and write for hours. Writing gives me joy. It’s an outlet where I can process my life and my child, and also separate from my child. If writing isn’t your outlet of choice, try a line-a-day journal or even write the events or feelings of the day on a paper calendar. The process of getting it out of your head and onto paper relieves your mind and body from unnecessarily carrying a burden.
- Isolation is not an option, even if it seems like a good idea. It is crucial for caregivers to spend time with friends and other family members. (No excuses for introverts!) There are weeks that will be harder than others and you may not be able to gather with people the same as before being a caregiver. But continue to foster life-giving relationships that create a space for you to process life and listen to others, the same as I would if you weren’t a caregiver.
What I began to understand is I can brainstorm a whole long list of ways to alleviate my caregiver burden. But I can’t completely relieve the burden of caregiving.
As people, we take care of each other. That’s what we do. Everyone is going to find themselves in a caregiving role at one point in life or another.
Caregiving is, selfishly, not always what I want to do. As I mature I am learning life is not all about me. I even discovered caregiving is part of my role in life. And when I get to a point when I need a caregiver, I hope that I will receive it will grace, knowing that we are meant to need one another eventually.
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