By Melinda Burns
Caregiving can often be a stressful role for family members. If you have the responsibility of taking care of a loved one- a son or daughter, a mother, a sibling- some days may seem like the demands just never end. You may even be part of the “sandwich” generation and care for both an older loved one and an offspring.
Caregivers are so important in their loved ones’ lives. They make all the difference and provide the quality of life no one else can. From knowing their likes and dislikes, to assisting them through difficult times of day, to simply being there, caregivers are the “glue” that bond individuals’ lives together. Take the time to enjoy that bond- from having a little laugh at something funny, to singing along to a song for the 100th time or to just taking the time to consider what an impact you have on your loved one’s life. Life wouldn’t be the same without you! Taking care of others is an important role that often receives very little recognition and can be very challenging. However, there are some things you can do to make the responsibility a little lighter.
Several ideas can help you enjoy caregiving even more. You may use many of these already! First, write down what you enjoy most about caregiving. Maybe you observe a greater calmness in your loved one when you’re around, a small step of progress or have a special activity that you enjoy doing together. Anything that is special to you about your relationship is important to notice. Family members often say, for example, that their lives have been changed for the better because of their son or daughter. What is it that that you enjoy?
The second idea is to develop and nurture a strong support network. You don’t have to do it all; in fact, you can’t! A solid support network will help you enjoy your caregiving role even more. Support networks can include family, friends, volunteers and paid staff. Having a strong support network can also help your loved one develop their communication and social skills. Regular contact with others besides the primary caregiver helps create relationships that are essential for the well-being of everyone and your loved one’s future. When developing your support network, consider asking people who could do some tasks for you that you just don’t have time to do. Keeping contact information up to date is essential. The larger your support network, the more you will enjoy caregiving.
A third idea to consider is the routines that are so important. These include your daily, weekend, holiday and vacation routines. For each situation, routines can be written or visual. Pre-sets can be used regularly and especially when there are any changes to the routine. Building in some flexibility, whenever possible, also helps routines work well when unexpected situations occur. Besides holidays and vacations, emergencies, snow days and medical appointments can change the routine. Having something special ready, such as a favorite book or activity, for these occasions can help both you and your loved one to enjoy these changes more. Changes to routines are hopefully temporary and can be handled with some planning for them.
A fourth idea is to develop an easy system to manage all of the paperwork that comes with caregiving. The information blizzard from schools, providers and agencies can easily become overwhelming. Having a portable file with hanging folders for all important categories can help keep papers flowing and easily retrievable. Requests that need a response by a certain date can be kept in a separate file until acted upon and then filed when completed. Once a system is set up, paperwork is more easily managed and takes less time. Keeping paperwork organized helps you enjoy caregiving.
A final idea is to treasure the smaller moments on your caregiving journey. Capturing those small steps of progress and growth on a video helps to savor the moments that may pass so quickly. Taking time to enjoy your loved one’s individuality and what makes them unique to the world is rewarding and fun. The surprises that can come when you are caregiving are part of the enjoyment. Maybe all of a sudden they do something you didn’t expect! You may realize how much compassion and understanding you have for your loved one and also what a strong advocate you can be. Taking pictures and videos can help document your loved one’s life story and your caregiving journey. These can be shared safely with friends and family to further spread the enjoyment. Creating a visual portfolio together can be a great way to engage everyone and tell your loved one’s story. These stories can become part of your family’s history and help others learn more about your loved one and who they are.
Enjoy your caregiving journey every day. You definitely make a difference in your loved one’s life. Hopefully, you can try a few of these ideas to help you enjoy it even more.
Melinda Burns conducts Family Support workshops on the topic: “How to Enjoy Caregiving”. If you are interested contact, Michelle Singh at firstname.lastname@example.org.