Family caregivers here in Hoover, Mountain Brook, Birmingham and the surrounding community have busy schedules and numerous commitments mean few of us can take on added responsibility for all.
It’s not easy choosing between competing priorities: career, community, family and personal well-being. Overextended and overwhelmed, people serving as family caregivers often lose their sense of self.
Members of the “sandwich generation,” adults who are looking after their aging parents and young children, often find themselves so busy taking care of everyone else that they neglect their own needs. They find themselves skipping lunch to check on Mom in Vestavia Hills, leaving work early to take the kids to practice in Homewood and spending weekends catching up on work. Caregivers regularly struggle with feeling they’re always disappointing someone or missing something important.
5 Tips for Busy Caregivers in Greater Birmingham
Knowing that caregiving takes a toll on a person emotionally, physically, socially and spiritually, we share the following insights and ideas:
1. Decide and discern.
Not all claims on your time are equally urgent. Because of work/life commitments, some things may have to wait. Learn to distinguish between matters that need immediate attention, such as a medical complication, and those that don’t. To help with scheduling dilemmas, share your conflicts and ask those involved for their input. People are often more understanding and flexible than we expect.
2. Set expectations.
Be realistic. Saying no can be uncomfortable, but the reality is you can’t say yes to everything. Though crises may arise, it is typically unnecessary and unreasonable to be at someone’s beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week. As part of the expectation-setting process, talk about your availability. Be honest about what’s feasible for you. Define what constitutes an emergency meriting immediate attention. The alternative is feeling manipulated, which frequently leads to resentment, conflict, and feelings of guilt.
“Saying no can be uncomfortable, but the reality is you can’t say yes to everything.”
3. Listen to yourself.
As you mull over your schedule, pay attention to your own words. For example, “should” tends to evoke a sense of guilt. For example, “I should go visit Mom” or “I really should go to Karly’s concert.” Instead, try substituting “need” or “want.” For example, “I need to go visit Mom” or “I really want to go to Karly’s concert.” Then consider the timing. Maybe visiting Mom can wait until tomorrow since Karly’s concert is tonight.
4. Relinquish some responsibility.
It’s human nature to want to be everything to everyone, but remember it’s okay to ask for help. Try to avoid taking on the entire responsibility for your aging parents in addition to your children and career. Instead, acknowledge the dilemma and ask your parents if they have a backup plan. If not, help them develop one. For example, if you’re unable to drive Mom to her doctor appointment, explore alternative modes of transportation (taking a cab, asking a friend or neighbor for a ride).
5. Introduce the idea of accepting assistance.
Accepting assistance is often the best way to maintain independence. Talk with your aging parents about limitations they may currently be experiencing (diminished vision or hearing, limited mobility or stamina) and how introducing hired caregivers will allow them to remain in their homes. If denial or resistance to the conversation is a concern, you might point out that not making decisions now may limit future options or even eliminate choice altogether.
Make Time For Critical Caregiving Conversations
Take some time to have these critical conversations with your aging loved ones as soon as possible. When expectations are set appropriately and plans are in place, you’ll feel more in control of the situation and your life.