If you are currently looking after aging parents or other family members, or know you will be sooner or later, then this is for you…
Looking after other people is part and parcel of being a viable human being.Many of us started at quite a young age when we looked out for our younger brothers and sisters and as we grew in age and experience what we did for others around us and the responsibility we took on in those roles also increased until one day we found ourselves to be parents -looking after a new member of our family and society.
Caring, nurturing and keeping an eye on people around us is simply a part of who we are. Of course, we see that in the animal kingdom too. Who cannot be touched by a cat or dog with their young or a momma bear cuddling her cub of a few hours, days or weeks old.
Traditionally, in most societies, that caring attitude continues right through life until roles get reversed and we find ourselves looking after our parents – helping with all sorts of things that through age and frailty they can no longer manage. And like bringing up kids, that too can become a full time job. One that’s on top of all the other things that still have to get done!
I’ve been very hands-on in that position for a number of years now and although it not always been plain sailing (two strong willed guys don’t always see eye to eye)I do not regret one moment of the time I have had with my father. At just shy of 89 years old he has had quite a life (and doesn’t lose an opportunity to tell anyone about it either). And even now, I’m still gaining insight from him – but it’s probably not what you may be thinking.
If you’ve been on any commercial flight more than a few times you’ll have hear done phrase so many times that it simply becomes background noise. Yet it is something that I have had to remind myself of more and more during my stint as a ‘carer’… “Put on your own oxygen mask first – before helping others with theirs.”
After awhile being a carer,becomes a way of life in that everything revolves around the kids – I mean the person you are looking after. The thing I’ve noticed and had confirmed by others in the same situation is that ‘we’ start to get lost. One of the first things to go is our relationship with spouses, other members of the family and friends. They all seem to get put on the back burner.
If you notice this is happening to you – please take this as encouragement to make the changes necessary to make your life better and I’ll suggest some positive solutions for you later.
The old adage is true… “You can’t ring water out of a dry sponge.”
We all only have so much ‘energy’ to give, once we’ve used it up then we start to use that which our being would normally reserve for ourselves. That’s when we become physically, mentally and emotionally drained.
That’s when our caring starts to damage us and – if nothing is done – we simply can’t function well enough to help anyone – not even ourselves!
Please – if you are a carer or a parent or simply in the position of looking out for others, make sure you always look out for yourself first.
Now our simple minded friends might like to see that as being selfish but actually it’s completely the opposite of being selfish. Looking after your own health and well being means that you’ll still be there as long as you are needed. It means you’ll be able to enjoy the company of the person you are caring for and means that that precious relationship you had (and probably why you are looking after them in the first place) won’t be tarnished by ill health, stress and so on.
So what can you do?
Don’t do it alone.
Don’t be a martyr.
If you have siblings, get together and make a plan so they take an agreeable share of the load. They may not do the job as well as you – but that does not matter (and if I had space I’d tell you why that can be a good thing). Just a few weeks ‘off duty’ while mom or dad visit another member of the family can make a huge difference to the quality of life for the main carer.
If you don’t have sibling or others in the family who can help out then go to you wider circle of friends. After all – anyone can take mom out to have her hair done or dad out to his club – it does not have to be you.
On that note, many clubs have a ‘transport coordinator’ who can arrange that for you or at the very least will have people living nearby who can take turns to collect and return mom or dad. You just have to get in touch and you’ll be surprised how helpful they can be.
If they are old enough – don’t forget the grand kids.
Did you help to buy their car? Use that leverage if you have to.
Don’t do anything for them if they really can do it themselves.
Put in place a ground rule… If they need help they HAVE TO ASK EVERY TIME
I know it’s tempting to do things for them especially if it saves time and say you’re rushing to go out. But don’t! Because that will start a trend resulting in them doing less and less for themselves.
Even if what they accomplish is not perfect, that’s OK.
We need to try and maintain their independence and self respect because doing so will help to guard our independence too.
Organise professional help before it’s needed.
I can’t stress this enough and you’ll be surprised not only how much of a difference this can make but that many times it is not as expensive as you might have thought and is sometimes even free.
Obviously I don’t know all the details about where you live so I can only give you an idea of places to look to get help and assistance. Hopefully reading this short list will inspire you to think of others that you have access to and remember – if you don’t ask you don’t get.
And don’t forget. While certain help and support may not be available where you live, mom or dad might be able to access it where other members of the family live.
These people should know the right people to contact
Mom or dad’s health care professional
Social services – they will most certainly have a list of care providers, care help organisations and charities. In some places they will also organise (and maybe pay for part or all of any work needed to say adapt a home to make it safe for mom or dad to continue living in)
Unions and work based support associates and clubs
There are a whole range of benefits available to many veterans in many countries. See the various veteran association and also speak with other vets. They’ll be bound to know where to look and often be willing to help personally out if they can.
Church or other religious groups that mom or dad went to.
Lodges, Moose and other fraternal organisation.
Many charities have their own in-house support workers or working relationships with tried and tested external support workers. Some may even help with the costs.
Above all, please do remember to involve the rest of the family as much as possible. Don’t think you have to do it all. Often times it will be more effective (and give a sense of independence) for mom or dad to arrange spending some time with other members of the family and of course they might even arrange a longer visit than you would have asked for.
The bottom line is you need to make sure that whatever your situation is as a carer that you care for yourself first.
Lastly, don’t forget that when mom or dad come to live with you that you’ll have the opportunity to introduce a much healthier diet (even if you have to do so on the quiet).
Eating better can only help. As an example, my dad has been diagnosed as diabetic for many years but within a year of eating LowCarb, he was off insulin and meds and his blood sugar is totally controlled by diet – and he’s in his eighties!
Enjoy them while you can – just don’t become a slave.
‘Till next time
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