1. The Situation Could Be More Demanding Than You Thought
Your aging relative or friend’s need for help has probably been coming on gradually, as they’ve become less capable of managing the demands of daily life – like keeping up the house.
“You’ve been to see your parents and they worked hard to get it ready for a visit,” Cindy says, “but you may not notice that the newspaper stack is getting higher and higher, and the recycling isn’t going out. When we’re going to our parents’ home, that’s just the status quo. We’re sometimes not realizing it’s getting less clean and less organized.”
It may be hard for them to admit to you they can’t mow the yard anymore or lift the ladder to clean out the gutters. So be prepared, once you’ve committed to start caring for a senior, to discover that they may have let things go more than you knew.
“A common thing that happens is that someone’s in the hospital – maybe it’s mom’s first fall – and she’ll tell the social worker: ‘My daughter can stop by every night after work and bring me meals.’ It’s not uncommon for someone in the hospital to say they have family that can do all this without talking to the family,” Cindy says. “The daughter will say: ‘I live 30 miles away on the other side of the city. It’ll take me an hour to get there after work. I can’t do that.’ What a parent sees as realistic may not be the same as reality.’”
It is important to set healthy boundaries with parents. Especially if you’re juggling a career and your own family on top of helping a parent stay in their own home, you may find yourself spread a little thin.
“There’s a point where you become resentful of having to do that,” Cindy says. “You need to figure out how much you can do without creating negativity in your life.”
What’s happening with your parents in their later years is emotional enough, but coming to a consensus about what to do can be rough on even the tightest of siblings.
Cindy describes a typical scenario: “We all know how our family operates. There’s nothing really happening, but there may be underlying tensions that naturally exist. Maybe the oldest son sees the younger son as always getting away with things he can’t. What happens under stress or in crisis is that those things blossom.”
Even if you agree to be the main caregiver for your elderly parent at the start, you may end up feeling like your siblings aren’t pitching in enough. They may feel like they aren’t getting enough of a say. It’s easy in these situations to revert to old childhood patterns and bring up old hurts.
Cindy knows a thing or two about that. Not only has she helped coach people through this, but she has firsthand experience. She helped take care of her parents and her husband’s parents.
“What happens is, you spend your whole lunch hour calling people, then you go back to work and you’re waiting for those callbacks. If you’re trying to do a report and making calls for your parent, your 8 to 5 schedule might become 8 to 7. Or you say, ‘I’ll do it at home,’ and you’re sitting there doing that report at 11 at night. How much sleep do you get?”
“There I was, caregiving for my in-laws and my parents, all four of them, trying to keep track of doctor appointments, who was needing services, who needed home care,” Cindy says. “And I was holding a mid-management position in a hospital. It wasn’t realistic that I could juggle it all.”
At your age, you may not know how often an older person should get a colonoscopy. Adult day care may be a complete mystery to you. And you certainly haven’t spent a lot of time investigating how to buy a Medicare plan.
“You’re going to run into a whole lot of things you’ve never dealt with before,” Cindy says. “Things that even a college-educated person is going to have difficulty with: Looking at your parent’s financial situation and how to deal with that. Finding financial planners or attorneys, somebody who understands elder law. That’s why you’d connect with a program like us. I know some things myself, and I know several reputable firms in the Twin Cities.”
People who take on the role of caring for an elderly parent or relative may naturally be the type of person who thinks of everyone else’s needs before their own. But that can last only so long.
Cindy paints a picture of life as four glasses of water and a pitcher: “Your glasses might be your husband, your son, your 14-year-old-daughter, and your parents. You keep everybody’s glass full, but where’s the pitcher for you? People keep pouring, and pretty soon the pitcher’s empty.”
“There was a time when it wasn’t accepted that you would put yourself first,” Cindy says. “It’s not about putting yourself first, but doing your caregiving AND knowing how to take care of yourself.”
That reward could be as simple as spending more time with your loved one and finally hearing the story behind that one photo in the dining room. It can be the peace of mind knowing that they’re safer when you check on them every day. It can be giving back to somebody who has given so much to you.
“My dad never wanted to go into a nursing home,” Cindy says. “Feeling that I was honoring his wishes, I look back at it and I feel lucky.”
No matter how frustrating or rewarding it is to care for older adults, you don’t have to do it alone. “There isn’t a classroom you can go to and learn all of this,” Cindy says. “Whatever the journey is, there’s help. If you have to make a right turn, there are people who are able to help you along.”
We welcome caregivers to reach out to our team to learn how our knowledge and services can assist you in caring for your parent or loved one. We are here to help make the experience even more rewarding.