The struggles that someone has with caregiving for the most part, are not the actual act of doing the “hard, uncomfortable” stuff. The problem is that the person who is providing the care has forgotten, or possibly never learned how to set personal boundaries. When I’m mentoring someone, I often hear, “I can’t do that.” Now it’s possible that “can’t” is the real issue, but usually when we get right down to it, most people CAN. Truthfully, if you think for a minute…you can do almost anything. What the caregiver is really saying is, “I won’t do that!” There is a huge difference between can’t and won’t, and the struggle is to get clear about where you draw the line…what you simply won’t do. And what you won’t do; is OK. You don’t have to do everything and you shouldn’t.
But let’s get really clear about resolving this issue and the reason why it plagues so many caregivers. Most of us are taught as young children to fit in a box. Most of us are taught to respect our elders and always do right by them. Most of us are taught to honor thy mother and father. And most of us are taught to be “good little girls and boys.” Right? I’m not making this up. And there’s nothing wrong with these messages, except they become imprinted in our brains. What’s wrong is that most of us were never taught how to set boundaries; how to determine what is right for us; and what simply doesn’t work. The evolutionary process of becoming a full human being with clear values and a process to discover why we feel the way we do about certain things, is not something we’re taught – at home or at school. It is up to us to get clarity around this subject.
We tend to travel through life and make it work. We follow directions. We fit in. We do the right thing. We don’t stray too far off the path, until something happens and our world is rocked. Such a thing often happens with caregiving. I know of no one who is fully prepared for the caregiving journey, especially when it involves caring for our parents. So what do you do?
I’ve said before and I’m going to keep saying it. You have to KNOW what you can and won’t do. You have to be clear about this. The other dayI received a call from one of my caregivers whom I mentor. Her mother has 5th stage Alzheimer’s and recently she has been in rapid decline. As shocking as this is for her daughter to witness, she is totally educated about the disease, understands as much as anyone I know about it, and is able to deal with deterioration of her mother. However, her mother is married and her husband continues to take her out in public where she becomes frightened and acts out. Her mother’s dignity is in question and her daughter is extremely upset and rightfully so. For some reason the husband won’t get 24-hour care for her mother, even though there are funds available. The other night my client was taking care of her mother while her step-father had a small meeting at his home. She had to remove her mother from the home, (the only place she’s really comfortable) and care for her. So far, so good, until she realized that her mother is no longer able to go to the bathroom without assistance and major assistance. She is simply unable to do this without someone attending to her every need.
This was the breaking point for her daughter. Struggles ensued and both mother and daughter were in a battle. The daughter called me at 9 pm – crying. She simply didn’t know what to do and she kept saying, “I can’t do this anymore without help. But my step-father won’t get any help. What am I supposed to do?”
We talked for a while and mostly I listened to her language, to her frustration, but mainly to her personal fear of saying, “NO” to her mother and setting her own boundaries. After several minutes of listening, I told her that she was fully capable of assisting her mother with toileting issues, but that was not the problem. She was simply not going to do it for a whole host of rational, clear reasons. She knew her “why;” what she needed to figure out was how to say it and then follow through. Herein lies the greatest challenge for caregivers. Putting oneself at the top of the pyramid requires courage especially when you have never put yourself first. There are reasons why we are afraid to do this – why some people are paralyzed at the thought of saying, “no” or “I will no longer do…. (Fill in your own blank.) Many of us have been taught that self care is:
- Unnecessary, and any number of negative adjectives.
The truth is that none of this is true. The truth is that caring for you is smart. Caring for you creates a happier person. Caring for you creates balance. Caring for you says to the world, “I matter.” There is NOTHING wrong with being clear about the fact that you matter. Remember we’re talking about self care vs. selfish care. There is a big difference.
If you are feeling challenged by the need for Self Care, we have a helpful Ebook, which will validate for you all the reasons why self care matters. We become empowered when we let down the walls, feel the fear, move through it and gain clarity.
Let me know your thoughts on this subject. Share your story of how you struggle with this or better yet, how you’ve figured it out.