If we believe several recent parenting, nutrition or career articles, we’re doing it all wrong.
As caregivers, we look for advice on how to do things better, but often the message of what’s "better" is conflicting or negative.
If you are a caregiver, and you’re managing multiple combinations of parenting, caregiving, and job responsibilities, you know that finding the right balance is never easy. As caregivers, we look for advice on how to do things better, but often the message of what’s "better" is conflicting or negative.
I’m starting to wonder if in our quest to be the best, are we trying just a little too hard?
We’ve been taking care of others for generations, but ours is the first to write about these experiences in great detail. From "dietary dilemmas" to "which extra curriculars or sports are best," we share stories and articles on social media feeds for the world to weigh in on.
Personally, I already reflect on parts of the day when, as a parent of two young children, I made mistakes or felt worried I was not doing what’s "best." I don’t need any steady stream of opinions to make me feel these worries more acutely.
Feeling stress and second-guessing yourself also applies in caring for an aging parent, or someone fighting a serious illness. In a time where the message is to be Pinterest-perfect, it seems that we’re actually creating a perfect storm of anxiety that doesn't help the people we're caring for.
Recently, I wrote about my best friend from high school who, at the age of 39, is fighting stage 4 pancreatic. There is nothing that can prepare you for news like this, or for how to support someone. The relationships we create when we are young are often the most powerful. They have memories and influences that shaped both who we were, and who we are now.
There’s no question that hope and positivity are healing on all levels for someone fighting cancer.
My friend lives across the country, and I recently went to visit during her break from treatments. Her parents, who jokingly referred to themselves as her "servants" when I arrived, are her primary caregivers. Their new normal consists of a daily round of organic nutrition and juicing, pain management, and working together to make sure her choices for treatment are met (chemo and hospitalization are not on the table.) Unquestionably, my friend’s parents/caregivers are doing an amazing job.
During my visit there was one particularly tough afternoon, both physically and emotionally, when I felt at a loss to find the "right" things to say or do for her. I so desperately wanted her to feel better that I became consumed with worrying that I was doing it all wrong. Her caregivers often feel the same way.
A lot of my friend’s pain was coming from fear, and she just needed to express it. I finally took her hand and asked, "What can I do to help you?" Her reply, without hesitation was, "just be my friend."
Those few words were what I reflected on most that night back at the hotel, and how powerful they were.
The next day we hit the reset button. We talked, we shared memories, and we laughed. We even got up to Whistler, a short drive from her house, to do a "float" or floatation therapy. At first I wondered what we were getting ourselves into, but wow! The new memories we made, talking about the experience, styling our hair, and taking a short walk around the Whistler Village afterwards, are priceless. At least for one day, I was just "being her friend," and it was wonderful.
Like parenting, for caregivers doing it right can be very complicated.
Any given day can be filled with multiple good moments and bad moments. You might feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants. And yes, we all make mistakes along the way!
To help yourself cope and focus on the positive, ask yourself these caregiver questions below. The more that you can say yes to, the better:
- Are the needs of the person in my care being met?
- Does the person I’m caring for know that they are loved and that they are not alone?
- Am I able to help him/her have a bit of a sense of normalcy, even just for a few hours or minutes at a time?
- Am I helping them with relaxation methods such as breathing techniques, yoga, walking, and/or creative hobbies at least once a day?
- When I’m trying to be a helpful caregiver, am I checking in with the person in my care to ask what they want and/or need?
- Am I reminding myself, or asking someone to remind me, that each day I "am" doing my best?
Optimism and hope are so important for the well-being of the person you’re caring for, and for yourself as a caregiver.
If there’s anything that we are doing wrong, it’s focusing on what we think are our faults or weaknesses when we are faced with difficult life situations. There’s no real right or wrong answer for how to get through these difficult journeys. As a caregiver, you do what works best for your family.
My friend’s family, and the rest of us around her, are all taking inspiration from her beautiful, warrior-woman spirit, and her love of life. As she puts it, "No pity parties or giving up… only looking for a better way to live."
Caregivers, show yourself some kindness and know that you are doing things right. We’re all finding our own better way to live - for the person in your care, and for yourself as a caregiver. Because what else is there?