The holidays, even the COVID limited ones, are a perfect time for families to cross paths and see into each other’s lives. For aging parents where one is caregiving for the other, this can be both good and bad. Good, if it opens doors to more understanding and support. Bad, if it brings about more frustration and disappointment. And likewise for adult children, it can be a double-edged sword of seeing their parent’s reality but having suggestions and recommendations for help dismissed.
The irony is that usually both sides agree with the logic of most suggestions. For example, selling the family home, which has become too much in an already overwhelming caregiving situation. The great divide into which many families fall here, comes from the very thought of implementation and execution. Unable to see the other’s perspective and reality, caregiving parents and adult children draw a line in the sand and feel misunderstood and not heard.
Caregivers are often their own worst enemies, and saboteurs. They don’t want to burden their adult children with details about just how difficult their caregiving reality is. It’s their own duty, not that of their children, to make the best of the situation. So they let things go or make it look like everything is swell or at the very least, manageable, and cover up all the imbalances. They protect each other and try to avoid having to change the big stuff. Bottom line: they often don’t know how to ask for help, nor want to if it means giving up control.
Meanwhile, their adult children are living their own lives, have their own way of doing things, and perhaps interpret their parents’ situations based on their own adult experiences. Thus, there may be quick but perhaps inaccurate conclusions drawn on limited knowledge of the parents’ true reality.
We all admit that in reality, we don’t like to see another’s or acknowledge our own vulnerability particularly for those always viewed as strong and in charge. And if we admit to this vulnerability, does it then require us to act on it? Judgement aside, if we choose to offer help or ask for it – how, where and when do we know to do it?
Misinterpreting the other’s wait game
One of the biggest delays in building a family caregiver team is having caregiving parents wait for their adult children to offer and adult children waiting to be asked. The wait game begins when each misinterprets the other’s reality as barriers and obstacles. Caregivers’ views of adult children: their lives are too busy; they have families themselves; I don’t want to be a burden. Adult children’s view of parents: I don’t want to interfere; they’ll ask when they need me; they should just do what I’ve told them.
So we get nowhere and there’s no communication except in our own heads where we can only imagine, usually incorrectly, a dialogue that is never spoken between actual people. As a former adult child caregiver, present adjunct family caregiver, and professional caregiver advisor, I offer a few hypotheses:
Shaping caregiving support
Designing a caregiving plan may seem like one more time consuming thing to do, but it is actually one of the most advantageous. This exercise can educate, support, and enhance the lives of everyone involved in the plan. Quite simply, caregivers take a sheet of paper and make three columns across the top labeled:
Caregivers – write everything down under each heading that you yourself need to do over the regular course of a day, a week and a month of caregiving. As you write, think of every aspect of life: e.g. re-ordering and picking up prescriptions; changing the oil in the car; mowing the lawn; doing the food shopping; showering your loved one; doing your laundry; going to your own doctor appointments, etc., etc.
When your lists are complete, go back and circle in each column what you can give to someone else to do for you. Don’t think of who can do it, just think do YOU have to do it. Next, copy all the circled items on a separate piece of paper. Distribute that sheet to adult children, family, friends, whomever is offering to be on your caregiving team and part of the plan. Let them review the list and sign their name next to whatever they choose to do. This is also a great list to post near your phone or keep in your pocket so when people ask, what can I do for you, you can pull it out and see what tasks they’d like to choose.
Adult children – take a look at all the lists. It’s a good way to see into your parents’ reality. Review the list of tasks to give away and see if there is something there that you can choose. The nice thing about choosing is you can match your own availability, skills, and comfort levels to specific areas. No judgements; no assignments; just what you choose.
This process is not only helpful for the day to day responsibilities the caregiver needs to share, but also for major changes that must be made as time evolves. Like selling the family home and downsizing. Before becoming overwhelmed by all that involves, write it down as tasks instead. Rather than taking the whole responsibility on, can others help with some of those tasks? Circle and list them out on that sheet for things that can be taken on by others.
Caregivers: whatever you give away as tasks to be done by others, let them do those tasks their way. We can’t control everything and it is in trying to so that we become overwhelmed and defeated and turn off those who would offer. Let others help at their speed, comfort level, and knowledge set. We can teach each other a lot this way and all be better caregivers in the process.
~ Joan F. Wright, CDP, CADDCT