7 Not-So-Simple Tips for Caregivers
When dealing with an elderly parent or loved one as a caregiver, you’ve probably realized that nothing is really “simple”. If someone tells you that they have an easy solution to a challenge that you’re having as a caregiver, they probably don’t understand the situation very well. You’re dealing with a huge transition in life stages – both for you and your loved one – things won’t be “simple” for a while. That said, there are some things that you can do to make this transition easier for both you and your loved one. They may sound simple but anyone who’s been through it will tell you that they’re easier said than done. Once you go through it, though, you’ll be glad that you did.
Don’t Skirt the Tough Conversations
It’s natural to want to avoid conversations that make you feel uncomfortable – it’s human nature to guard yourself like that. It’s really easy to try to deflect topics that you make you uncomfortable with “it’s not healthy to dwell on that” or “let’s keep the conversation more positive” but that doesn’t offer any validation to your loved one when it comes to concerns that they may have about how they’re going to handle this. Anyone who’s been in a relationship for any amount of time will tell you that when someone doesn’t feel that validation from a loved one, life can get pretty tough. Let them talk out their concerns and listen, even when it gets uncomfortable. It’s not easy but it’s important.
Know When You Don’t Know
You’re not going to know the answers to every question that comes up. Nor will you know how to respond to every issue that arises. Know when to admit to yourself and to your loved one that you don’t know an answer to a question or how to handle an issue. The words “I don’t know” can be the most trust-inspiring words in difficult circumstances but for many of us, they can be difficult to say. You want to make sure that your loved one knows that you care but it’s better to admit that you don’t know the answer than to provide any misinformation that could do more harm than good.
Find Spiritual Help When You Need It
Whether you have any connection to spirituality or not, an elderly parent entering their golden years may start asking questions – they may not, but if they do, they’re likely going to start asking questions to which you don’t have any answers. This refers back to the last tip but with a bit of a special circumstance. If and when these questions arise, make sure that you answer them as best you can but call in the clergy when you need to.
Don’t Be Afraid of Crying – Either of You
No one’s comfortable when someone starts crying. We’re taught for years to “hold back the tears” and to “never let them see you cry”. As a result, we try to avoid letting the tears flow and get uncomfortable when we see others do so as well. Remember that caregiver burnout is a real danger, especially with new caregivers, and bottling up emotions is a fast road to burnout. Along with the other transitions in your life, think about transitioning to a mantra of “let them fall like rain”. Tears are a natural emotional release that need to happen from time to time.
Don’t Resort to Platitudes
It’s so easy to try and wash fear, uncertainty and questions away with a simple “it’ll all work out like it’s supposed to” or “this will just make you stronger” or any other of the myriad of cliche’d platitudes that we’ve been taught to use in small talk conversations with acquaintances. But remember, this is a loved one. Your parents don’t suddenly become acquaintances just because they need your help. Keep your conversations as deep as they were before you became a caregiver. If they were never very deep, consider this an opportunity to deepen your relationship. It won’t be easy but it’ll certainly be worth it.
There will likely be a lot of anger and frustration coming from your loved one as they transition into this stage in their life. It’s new, it’s uncomfortable and pain and lack of energy might lead to a shortened fuse. Some of this will probably end up directed at you, even if it’s not warranted. It’s important to stay patient and respond constructively to these feelings. As difficult as it may be, try not to take it personally and instead try to identify the issue that’s causing the anger and deal with it together.
Remember that, in all of the confusion, all of the insanity and all of the new responsibilities, the person sitting in the chair on the other side of the room is, first and foremost, a loved one. It can be pretty easy to let the “patient/caregiver” mentality take over and forget that. Stay connected to them as a loved one and make sure that the relationship doesn’t fall away.
I know that these tips aren’t easy – the important ones never really are. If you follow them, though, you’ll see thee quality of your life as a caregiver and that of your loved one improve immeasurably.