By Lydia Andrews
I remember when I first learned of my mom’s health condition (Parkinson’s), she herself did not tell me. We shared the same primary care doctor and he told me that she had a neurological condition and that was all he was allowed to say. He told me because he became aware that she hadn’t said anything and he wanted to make sure I knew because she would get to a point where she needed someone to care for her and that person turned out to be me.
Caregiving is a 24/7 responsibility. The majority of caregivers (82%) care for one other adult, while 15% care for 2 adults and 3% of 3 or more adults.1 20 hours per week is the average number of hours family caregivers spend caring for their loved ones while 13% of family caregivers are providing 40 hours of care a week or more.2 That is a lot of time especially if you have a full-time job and a family of your own to care for as well.
It becomes a major part of your life. Whatever you have going on in your life, takes a back seat. I was not prepared for the numerous responsibilities I would be taking on and to say it was overwhelming is putting it mildly. It puts a strain on many aspects of your life: your relationship with a significant other, your marriage, your job and your finances. Now don’t’ get me wrong, I’d do it again in a heartbeat. There weren’t second thoughts because she did it for me.
There were things I had to learn on my own and learn the hard way. Here are a few things I learned and experienced:
- Role reversal. You will go from being the child of that parent to being the parent of a child. Remember when your mom or dad would question you about everything? “Did you do your homework?” “Did you wash your hands and brush your teeth?” Well, you’re doing the asking now. “Did you take your medication today?” “What time did you take your meds?” “Have you eaten today?” “When’s your next doctor’s appointment?” This is natural but it will present challenges because your mom or dad still look at you as ‘their baby’ and may not take to kindly to you questioning them. Be patient and talk to them about this. Remind them that you know they are the parent and are still in control but that you are there to help them, not take over their lives. Remember to do what you need to for their care but make sure you still allow for them to manage their lives so they don’t feel like they are no longer in control. It’s a daily reminder to them that they are getting older and more dependent on people.
- Your time is all about your caregiving duties. You will have to schedule your life around the care of that parent because their situation will be moment to moment, in most instances. There will be times when you’re out or at work, you’ll get a call and you have to drop what you’re doing to help them. This will happen for sure but what you can do is ask your parent to let you know if it’s an urgent matter or not so you can gauge your time better. It helps to ease worries as well when you are away from them.
- Find out all you can about their health condition. Be informed because you will need to learn how to best care for mom or dad (or relative). Talk to their doctors or yours, talk to others who may also have the same condition. Sign up for a health newsletter that specifically talks about the health condition they are dealing with. Learn all you can so you know what to expect.
- Some family members will be there to support and some won’t be. This was extremely challenging for me to deal with because support did not come easily and in some instances at all. I have an aunt that helped me greatly! She would come up to NY and stay with my mom sometimes to give me a break from the day to daycare. It’s tough on families and people will deal with situations like these differently. Talk with family: siblings, aunts, uncles and ask for their help. If they choose not to help, that’s on them…keep it moving. If you don’t have family contact a health care agency and hire a home health aide to help you. Know there is help out there.
- Don’t feel guilty about having some “ME” time. This is so important. I felt guilty all the time. Anything I did for me I felt guilty because in my head I’d be saying, ‘You should be with your mom…she needs you.’ I had to work on this because not scheduling “ME” time contributed to sleepless nights and LOTS of stress. Don’t beat yourself up. You deserve some time to yourself. If you don’t allow yourself to relax and recharge, you’ll have nothing to give to your parent. You’ll be wiped out: emotionally, mentally and physically.
My mom, my best friend made her transition on January 11, 2016. I miss her dearly and taking care of her was my pleasure. She deserved that and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
1: National Alliance for Caregiving in association with AARP.
2: National Alliance for Caregiving in association with AARP. November 2009.
Lydia Andrews is a holistic health coach, author, motivational/empowerment speaker and lifestyle wellness, advocate. Follow Lydia on Twitter @BWelLiveHealthy.