Caregiving—Coping With Day-to-Day Pressures
IF CAREGIVING causes you some pressures, especially ones you had not anticipated, you may be inclined to feel guilty. You might wonder: ‘Is there something wrong in my relationship with my parents? Don’t adults in many cultures live happily with their parents all their lives?’
Well, your situation may be different. Your parents may have moved into your home after 20, 30, 40, or more years of their living apart from you. This means that you and your parents formed life-styles and habits independently of one another for the greater part of your lives. In the course of several decades, those life-styles and habits may have become very different. But now, as a caregiver, you are confronted with the need to blend your life harmoniously with those in your care. This can be more difficult than if you had been living together all along.
Too, some parents may be quite ill or in other ways need more special care. Although, commendably, you may be supplying what is required and see no present need to put your parents in a nursing home, this situation understandably puts day-to-day pressures on all of you. Caring for your parents is natural. Growing old and getting sick is not. The Creator never purposed that people lose their strength and health with age. Therefore, do not think there is something wrong with you because the situation requires more, emotionally and physically, than you had foreseen.—Genesis 1:26-31; Psalm 90:10.
Pressures related to caregiving do not necessarily reflect a poor relationship between you and your parents. Especially if you enjoyed a good relationship with them before they needed your help, it is likely that any difficulties you experience are the result of the challenges that caregiving can present. How can you effectively deal with the day-to-day pressures?
Dealing With Guilt Feelings
Even persons who are doing all they can and should for their parents sometimes feel guilty about not doing more. Inappropriate guilt, however, can be a problem. You can find yourself making decisions that are designed to relieve your guilt but are not necessarily in the best interests of you or your parents. For example, what would happen if, to alleviate her feelings of inappropriate guilt, a woman became absorbed in caregiving to the neglect of her own husband and children? She, her husband, and her children would suffer the consequences. So do not let inappropriate guilt control your life.
Do you sometimes feel guilty because it seems that you can never do enough for your parents? It is possible, then, that your parents’ needs exceed what you are able to provide. The situation may be such that, no matter what you do, there is always more that could be done. Furthermore, if you view caregiving as a means of repaying your parents for all that they did in your behalf while you were growing up in their care, you will always feel guilty, because you simply cannot fully repay them.
The book You and Your Aging Parents points out the need to decide how much you will do for your parents. It says: “You will save yourself a great deal of wear and tear if you base [your decisions] primarily not on what you would like to do or even what you should do, but what you can do.”
Yes, determine realistically what you can expect of yourself. It might help if you enlist the aid of a trusted friend who knows your abilities, your limitations, and your family situation. Can you take your parents into your home? Do you have sufficient space? Will they agree to move in? If your parents do not live with you, how often can you visit them, and when? If you do what you can, there is no need to feel guilty. If you feel guilty anyway, recognize the feeling as inappropriate and refuse to let it govern your decisions.
Share the Load
The Bible book of Ecclesiastes points out how unhealthy it is to be “wicked overmuch” or “righteous overmuch” and that being righteous overmuch can “cause desolation to yourself.” (Ecclesiastes 7:16-18) This can happen if you are trying to accomplish more than you want to do, can do, and even should do.
If you already had a full schedule before starting to care for your parents, you must eliminate some other activities or get help. Yet, many who need help hesitate to ask. They may feel too timid or claim that others are unwilling to assist. However, you do yourself and everyone around you a disservice if you wear yourself down. In her book on caregiving, author E. Jane Mall calls such overfunctioning the “martyr syndrome.” She advises: “You should have a priority calendar, and three of your priorities should be time with your [spouse], time with your children and friends, and time for yourself.”
Yes, you may need to share the load. So where can you go for help? Family, friends, neighbors, and professionals can be of assistance. But you have to ask for the help. And you must ask directly. Hints don’t always work. You may be surprised who and how many are willing to assist if you make your needs clearly known, your requests definite. For example, you might ask someone to help you clean the house. If that would give you some needed relief, then this is no time to insist on cleaning the house yourself because ‘nobody else will do it right.’
If you have brothers or sisters, they also share the responsibility of caring for their parents. Perhaps you have done all or most of the caregiving up to now, believing that your brothers and sisters are unable or unwilling. However, have you directly requested their assistance? Some people will respond positively—if it is made clear to them that help is needed.
Some monopolize the care of a parent in an attempt to gain or to maintain parental approval. Or they may gain a feeling of piety by taking on the whole job themselves. They may complain that others will not assist with the caregiving, but they may also send out signals to show that they prefer it that way. This can be a form of being righteous overmuch. But why bring unnecessary hardships on yourself? If help is available, ask for it, and use it.
A word of caution: Do not expect that your brothers and sisters will share the responsibilities equally with you. While at times it may be possible for them to do so, often their own circumstances make that difficult, if not impossible. In many cases it is more practical for one family member to be the primary caregiver, while other family members, particularly brothers and sisters, contribute financially and by phoning, visiting, or occasionally taking their parents home or on weekend trips.
Living in close quarters can give rise to small irritations. Habits that you would easily excuse in a friend may seem intolerable in a close family member.
Additionally, your parent may say something like, ‘I wish you could spend more time with me, but I know you’re too busy for that.’ The message may hide the belief that you really don’t care enough about your parent. You could respond to such a statement with annoyance. Rather than becoming annoyed, would it not be better to address your parent’s real underlying concern, that of spending more time with you? Even if you cannot grant the request, kindly explaining matters will yield better results than a hurtful reply.—Proverbs 12:18.
Earnest effort at cultivating the qualities encouraged in the Bible will enable you to remain kind but firm when necessary. The Bible book of Colossians realistically acknowledges that we sometimes have “cause for complaint against another.” It directs us to “continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely.” It also exhorts us to clothe ourselves with “the tender affections of compassion, kindness, lowliness of mind, mildness, and long-suffering.” (Colossians 3:12-14) Certainly such qualities will go a long way to minimize the irritations of close living.
Even then if you occasionally slip, lose patience, and say something you wish you hadn’t, “let the sun not set with you in a provoked state.” Apologize quickly, and put the matter behind you. Do not allow it to become another source of guilt feelings.—Ephesians 4:26, 27.
If you and your parents live in the same home, you may find privacy difficult. Yet, you and your parents need a measure of it. You might talk this problem over with them and arrive at an understanding that certain times and places are private for you or your immediate family. For instance, for some families, but not all, a closed door with a do-not-disturb sign might be mutually understood as indicating a private area or time for the person inside.
If the room does not have a door, a portable screen or a partition could serve the same purpose. A tactful reminder might be in order if needed privacy is unexpectedly interrupted. The point is, one another’s need for privacy should be respected by all in the family.
Remember that although any decline in your parents’ health causes you pain, our Creator, Jehovah, wants us to experience a measure of joy even when we undergo trialsome circumstances. This work may also help you draw closer to Jehovah as you prayerfully lean on him. One caregiver expressed it this way: “I was always close to Jehovah, but caregiving taught me total reliance on him. It was like the difference between a long-distance phone call and having the person there with you. Jehovah was right there with me.”
[Box on page 7]
Making Caregiving Pleasant
1. What parents generally want from their adult children is quality contact. This requires drawing close to your parents and revealing important aspects of yourself. This can be difficult in a parent/adult-child relationship. Any judgmental attitudes on either side will stand in the way. Such attitudes need to be set aside to achieve intimacy.
2. If one of your parents is telling you of a problem or a concern, listen empathetically. Answers that minimize their feelings can intensify negative feelings such as: ‘Oh, it’s not as bad as all that’ or, ‘I know, the same things happen to me.’ You will be more effective if you try to identify your parent’s underlying feelings, then acknowledge and share these (‘Sounds like a hard time for you right now, but we’ll work through it together’).—Proverbs 20:5.
3. If you are the spouse of the primary caregiver, be physically and emotionally supportive. Communicate with your mate; otherwise misunderstandings will develop. A mate’s support makes a big difference. One woman lamented that the lack of support from her family was “harder to deal with than actually caring for [her] mother.” On the other hand, she deeply appreciated the help of a friend who relieved her on occasion. She said: “It touched my heart when she offered. That was so endearing to me, and it drew me closer to her.”
[Box on page 10]
If You Are Receiving Care
It may be that you are on the receiving end of caregiving. What can you do to help maintain a balanced and peaceful relationship with your children?
Some parents make the mistake of trying to gain control by nagging, prying, or inducing guilt. You likely know that this only results in less control and more stress. Results are better when you show your adult children that you respect them, their privacy, and their viewpoints, even when you do not agree. Regularly commending your children is effective. One adult offspring stated: “A child wants his parents’ approval no matter what age he is.”
In such a climate of love and respect, communicate your needs to your children. Hints and implications often do more harm than good, so be direct, but kind. Even if you and your children do not agree on a point, your tactfulness will make for a close and honest relationship free of misunderstandings.
[Pictures on page 8, 9]
In caring for your parents, also make time for your mate, your children, and yourself