I know what you’re thinking.
You read the title, rolled your eyes, and said to yourself, “simple and caregiving do not go in the same sentence!”
But, while caregiving may never, ever be simple, there are a few simple things you can do to make your caregiving experience happier.
And, some of them might be a little unexpected.
1. Make mistakes
So many caregivers are terrified of failing their parents. They’re worried that the stakes are too high and that they’re unprepared for the challenge.
Well, here’s some news for you: You will make mistakes. And it will be OK.
In fact, you have permission to make mistakes. So make them. Mistakes mean you’re trying new ideas. Since your heart is in the right place, making mistakes is a sign that you’re trying your best.
2. Learn as you go
Unless you’ve spent your career as a professional caregiver, this gig is new to you. How do you deal with the role reversal? How do you know, I mean really know, that you’re doing this right?
You don’t. You’ve got to learn as you go. The good news is we’ve all learned as we’ve gone. There are wonderful resources and communities dedicated to caregivers just like you. Read the resources. Talk to people who have walked this road before you. One thing you’re sure to find about caregivers is that we all love to share our stories.
3. Talk to your parents
I hear from a lot of caregivers who feel like they’re all alone in their journey. They tell me how their friends and coworkers haven’t had to care for their parents (yet), so they don’t understand. It’s an isolating feeling – you’re facing this challenge and nobody gets it but you.
But, you’re not alone in this. Your parents are there with you. Talk to them. Tell them your fears. They’re worried too.
If you work together, you’ll be happier – and so will they.
4. Talk to your friends
I was on the phone with a Dallas woman a couple of days ago who said she had no one to talk to about her parents. None of her friends would understand, because none of them had similar issues. Hmmm.
The thing was none of her friends had any idea what she was dealing with. By the numbers, most of your friends are dealing with this.
Remember, caregivers love to help each other. You have the opportunity to help your friends and they can help you. But, someone has to be the first one to bring it up.
5. Make new friends
Caregivers love to support each other. In other caregivers, you’ll find kindred spirits and knowledgeable advisors. One of my friends describes his support group as his “Board of Directors” for his senior care experience.
Support groups can be especially helpful when you’re caring for a loved one with a specific condition. There are wonderful DFW area support groups for Alzheimer’s Disease, ALS, Parkinson’s Disease, brain tumors and many more.
6. Celebrate milestones
When you’re caring for your parents, it’s easy to feel a bit like Sisyphus, pushing your boulder up the mountain every day, just to have it roll down again every night.
Helping your parents preserve their independence is a job with a receding goal. Like an aging marathoner who used to run six minute miles, but now is happy just to finish, your best possible outcomes will shrink over time.
But, like Dr. Kenneth Cooper, the father of aerobics who is now in his late 70s, told me, “I used to be a jogger and now I’m a walker. And that’s OK. I’m still as fit as I can be.”
It’s important to set realistic goals and reset them as time goes by. When you begin, it may be a goal to help your dad keep his driver’s license. In a few years, that goal may have changed to helping him keep is independence by arranging his own transportation.
And that’s OK. It’s a milestone to be celebrated.
If you’ve been caring for your parents for a few months, you’re doing a good job. In fact, you’re doing a remarkable job.
7. Ask for help
It’s OK to ask for help. Every caregiver needs help. You’re not supposed to be able to do every last thing on your own.
The good news is that help is just around the corner. In my experience working with hundreds of Dallas area family caregivers, when people say they want to help, they really mean it. Your neighbors really do want to bring dinner. Your daughter, home from college, really does want to drive grandpa to that doctor’s appointment.
Eventually, your parents’ care may be more than one person can reasonably handle. Remember, just because you’re the captain of the care team, doesn’t mean you have to be the only player too. If you need professional, reliable help, here’s some advice on how to choose senior care givers.
I know you already know this one. I also know you’re not taking time to rest.
Now, I’m not going to suggest that a busy family caregiver, who’s dealing with parents, kids, work and life is going to be able to get nine hours of ZZZs every night. So, how do you rest?
For me, it’s a great book. (If you’re looking for one, I just finished this biography of George Washington, which was outstanding.) For you, it may be a Saturday morning at the park. Or a movie. Or dinner with friends.
If you take time for yourself, you’ll return to help your folks rested and happier. And everyone will benefit.