Self-Care, Not Selfish
Mother has another eye appointment; Dad has to see his gerontologist. Mom’s dog needs a bath; Dad’s fixed on the notion that the hedges still need trimming even though their lawn service took care of it last week. Mom said it’s time for another grocery run—Dad’s out of chocolate bars.
If you were the primary caregiver, which would you do first? Maybe you could piggy-back Mom’s grocery run with your own—that seems efficient. You need to check their bank statement first, though, to make sure the retirement fund made the deposit as scheduled. You’ll have to remind Dad that the hedges have already been trimmed, but you know he’ll ask you about it again after just a few minutes.
You might be able to drop Mom off at the ophthalmologist then run Dad to his doctor. No, those offices are too far apart—he’ll get impatient waiting for Mom to finish with the eye doctor, and traffic between the two offices always resembles a parking lot. Sooner or later he’ll start asking the nurse to call you non-stop til you get there—because you know he won’t remember that he already asked her to call you once. The dog’s bath can be done tonight if you get back early enough, and—oh year, junior’s game got moved to tonight. And now you’ve missed your own dental appointment.
This is a real schedule for an average caregiver. Juggling two households, sandwiched between parents and kids. You love them all, but there’s only one of you. You can only be in one place at a time.
Sometimes just switching gears between the two can be a Herculean task. You can be at your teen’s basketball game and get a call from Mom saying that Dad had a fall and she wants him to go to the ER—just in case. So you camp out all evening in the ER only to get a call from your teen saying they won the game and will be going to the state championship. In a weary voice you might inadvertently say something like, “Oh, that’s great—no broken bones….”
Oh, but something’s going to be broken: YOU! If you don’t get away from the stress of being everything for everybody, you will wind up broken down and worn out.
Caregiver burnout is a real phenomenon, and it’s imperative that you take breaks to avoid it. Start by establishing small boundaries; try blocking out just 15 minutes during your day to do something you enjoy. Maybe have a cup of coffee and play a quick game of Solitaire on your phone, have a casual chat with a friend, or find a quiet place to delve into a good book.
Keep something positive on your desk or kitchen counter where you’ll see it every day. The small desk calendars which have single verses of Scripture can be very encouraging, lifting you up when you’re feeling down and over-burdened.
Take advantage of offers to help; today’s high schoolers need volunteer hours, so let them bathe Mom’s dog or do a little of her yard work. Maybe someone from your church could take your parent to a doctor’s appointment. When you learn to carve out healthy time for yourself and fill your mind with positive, affirming words, you become a better, more focused caregiver. Provide excellent care for your loved ones by taking excellent care of yourself.