I was in my late 50s when I became a caregiver for my parents, so our family dynamic was pretty established. We were a family of strong personalities. Mom was the boss and controlled all the family matters. Dad was patient, easy and outgoing and let her rule the roost.
I, on the other hand, banged heads with Mom on most things, and we didn’t have an easy relationship. Dad would wisely retreat to another room when the fireworks started.
When I jumped in to help take care of my mom when she began demonstrating signs of dementia, and my dad became exhausted by caring for her alone, I knew all hell would break loose. My mom would give me a hard time and be inconsolable, and my dad would go along for the ride.
Mom did give me a hard time and Dad did go along for the ride, and both of them reacted pretty much as I had expected.
The person I hadn’t figured into the equation was myself. I hadn’t considered the shock and confusion I would feel as my role shifted from child to parent and from being taken care of to being the caregiver.
When someone you depend on begins to depend on you, the world becomes topsy-turvy. Everyone gets their knickers in a twist. It’s confusing, heart-breaking and challenging.
I went from being overly controlling to panicking that I wasn’t up to the task. My parents wanted and needed the help but resisted it because it embarrassed and frightened them. It was a mess.
Soon I realized we had to find ways to adjust to all of this change. If I could calm down and get more balanced, they might be able to feel more comfortable, too.
I discovered a few tactics that soothed me and helped me lean into the new normal and even occasionally enjoy it. Let me share them with you.
When I didn’t try so hard, worry so much, do so much and try to fix everything at once, I felt more comfortable in my new caregiver role.
Trying to do the best I could on a daily basis, as opposed to trying to be perfect, made my job a little less scary. I constantly told myself to take it easy and keep it simple. Just by showing up I had it 80% covered. The universe would take care of the rest.
When I relaxed into my role and went with the flow, it seemed to make everyone less tense. I was able to respond in a gentler, calmer way to everything and everybody. We were more at ease.
Kindness is second to love and is a powerful healing force for all things. By being kind to both myself and my parents, I created an atmosphere of ease and understanding. Fear and frustration can’t play out or take hold when we are being kind to each other and to ourselves.
Speaking gently and with kindness in my tone of voice completely changed the outcome of the conversation from strained to enjoyable.
Small acts of kindness and compassion soothed even the most difficult activity. Treating myself as kindly as I would a friend prevented anger and frustration from building up.
Keeping my sense of humor saved my sanity. My family loves to laugh, and I took every opportunity I had to see the funny side of things and position our situation as fun and funny.
I knew I was in trouble when I lost my sense of humor. It was a clear indicator I was headed for burnout. So I would do anything I could to make myself and those around me laugh.
I even had goofy cat and dog videos saved that made me smile, as well as movies my family loves. One of my most powerful prayers is “please help me see the humor in this!”
These simple strategies were not always easy to remember or simple to do, but when I pulled them out of my emotional toolbox I felt relief, encouragement, and hope. As time wore on and my new role started to feel more natural, I was able to show up in less of a panic.
Relaxing, being kind and laughing helped me get used to my new normal and all the changes that came with it. Be super kind to yourself as you work through all the transition caregiving will bring. The road will go smoother and the journey will unfold in amazing ways.
If you are a caregiver, how are you dealing with this new way of living? What ways have you discovered to help you manage your life as a caregiver? Please share your tips and insights below.