So you’re raising kids and a full-time caregiver. Welcome to the club. Feeling like you just signed your life away? Just when the kids are getting older and time is more flexible, here you are right back in the thick of it.
Parenting is hard. Caregiving is hard. Doing both at the same time has become a new norm.
Your parent got old! Now you’re back under one roof. Holy crap how did that happen?
Don’t forget. In the spirit of Pardon Me, My Crown Slipped, I am not pulling punches. No sugar-coating.
ALLOW EVERYONE TIME TO ADJUST FOR CHANGE
Realize that there’s a learning curve. Some family members might take to the new situation easily. Maybe not everyone will like the changes. Fear, anger and resentment could come from anywhere. Even if this was a decision that everyone agreed on and knows is necessary. Even if everyone got along well before. Living together changes things. There is joy to be found, but sometimes it needs to be arrived at after a period of adjustment.
It might be the kids who don’t want to live somewhere new with someone old. They go to sleep early. They are often cranky. Frankly sometimes they smell. They like to pinch your cheeks. I meant the old people, but that sounds like kids too. Hmmm.
Your spouse is wondering where he fits in. It’s tough enough to get some nookie without the kids walking in, now it’s your elderly mother in the next room. So not sexy. At least she takes her hearing aids out at night.
Maybe your parent doesn’t want a bunch of kids running around. Kids are loud, they have lots of stuff and friends and lives. Elderly people want quiet and simple. And cookies, well at least everyone likes those. Ooh, how about a special batch of brownies so we can all just get along. On second thought, probably not a good idea.
What about you? What if you’re doing because it’s the right thing, but not because you really want to?
Not everyone gets to take care of Betty White. Cranky Aunt Edna from National Lampoon’s Vacation is funny on-screen, but in real life, you can’t actually put her on the roof of the family truckster. Although….
They might need more time and understanding – that includes you. People will be sad. People will be angry. Chances are they will take it out on you. Be ready.
Unfortunately change may be constant. Just like keeping up with children growing from stage to stage, you are also keeping up with declining stages of your parent. It could be fast or slow. Likely both. Make sense? Of course not, and it won’t. Get used to it.
LEARN, LEARN, LEARN
Your kids may be the ones getting an education, but everyone can learn more every day. Find out everything you can about your loved ones health issues. Taking care of someone who has cancer is going to be different than someone who has Alzheimer’s. All of it will suck. It will help to know in what way.
Don’t go too fast. Read a quick overview of their illness, but only go in-depth into the phase they are in now. It helps to have an awareness of what may happen next and down the road but you can easily become overwhelmed if you devour it all right away. Digest in small bites for your own well-being. You can learn more later as things happen or as you are ready to absorb more.
MAKE IT A FAMILY AFFAIR – GET CREATIVE
Kids can help. We home school which is a perfect fit. Even if you don’t, the time is ripe to teach compassion, adaptability, responsibility, and team work. Kids can help with laundry, yard work, cooking and many other household chores. This helps free up your time, but also teaches valuable life skills and lessons can be part of their home school curriculum or just life as you know it.
Elders can help with school too. Helping the kids with math problems by playing games or quizzing them with flash cards can make them feel useful. Kids or elders can recite poetry, put on plays, read books, listen to music, and sing songs.
Interviewing older people can offer lessons in historical events or just recording of family history. Old photographs, home movies and newspapers give rich memory activities for everyone. Kids get to see how grandma looked when she was young, smiling and active instead of only remembering her sick and old.
It is a good lesson in humility. That goes for you too, how do you want to be remembered? The cranky bitter bitch who grumbles all day? Or as someone who can find compassion in the face of heartache.
Many elders really do want to help. Maybe they can fold clothes or peel the potatoes. Sometimes they can’t or won’t for whatever reason. Boy do I understand. Like with kids, it can be easier to just do it yourself to avoid problems.
In this house we have senior hygiene issues associated with dementia. It might take effort but you can find ways to have them join in. Apparently I did not learn my lessons in patience with kids, I am going to keep repeating the lessons with grandma until I do. Sigh….
Spouses can offer a change of scenery. For you. For the kids. For the senior. Getting you out of the house for a date night or just a walk in the evening can make a world of difference. It’s surprising how just a short time away can give you a boost to keep going.
As any stay-at-home mom knows, getting the kids out of your hair is great. When you have full-time caregiving of an elderly person on top of that, it’s like a godsend. If it’s physically possible they could take the senior off your hands for a while. Or, oh my god – all of them at once.
ASK FOR HELP
Run. Don’t walk. Find every possible service you qualify for. Find every possible person who could help you. Big ways or small, doesn’t matter. Make a list. Now, before you need it. Because you will.
I’ll tell you straight out. I didn’t do this and still haven’t.
That. Is. Why. I .Am. So. Miserable!
Yes, you heard me right.
I have made every excuse I can come up with about why I don’t have help.
My grandma won’t like it. My family doesn’t help enough. We don’t qualify for any services covered through insurance. My grandmother won’t pay for outside services she can afford.
Whether they are true or not is irrelevant. If I had set this up in the beginning, everyone would be used to it and on board. Now my grandmother so used to it she has anxiety if I am not here. So now I have another excuse. Fear of conflict.
I don’t like to rock the boat. I was so hesitant to make waves at the beginning that I took it all on. It started about 5 years ago just during the day. Two years ago we merged households and it became round the clock.
Here we are still doing it all. She has two children, three step-children and seven grandchildren as well as four nieces. Yet, we are it. Most of them don’t call or visit….ever. If you’ve never heard of the 80/20 rule, it means in any group 20 % of the people will do 80% of the work.
Apparently our group is the operating under the 99/10 rule. Maybe they think I am Wonder Woman. Maybe I am. (wink). I really wish I was Samantha from Bewitched. Then it would be (nose twitch). Come on, you are lying if you never wished that.
If you don’t know who that is watch YouTube. Darrin sucks though, like I would cook and clean if I could twitch it done instead. What guy do you know who would go to work instead of getting you to twitch more beer and s**t. But I digress…..
I wasn’t overwhelmed at the beginning. It was easy to assume family would jump in and help. They didn’t. Often family members need to be shoved. Hard. Over a cliff. Problem is, I’m not much of a shover. More of a hinter. (I don’t think that’s a word). Umm, guess what? Hinting doesn’t work. So ask. Ask early. Ask often. Keep asking.
Online caregiver forums, groups, and blogs, like this one 🙂 can make an impossible situation manageable. Talking it over with others going through the same thing can make you feel less alone.
Professional help to discuss everyone’s needs and mediate conflicts may be necessary. Most insurances can at least offer an assessment from a social worker. That may be the best place to start at the beginning before any problems arise. Be proactive, instead of reactive.
STAY SOFT AND STAY STRONG
Be good to yourself. You need you. They need you. No one will benefit if you can’t stay healthy. Find ways to take care of yourself. All those lame lists that tell you to take a walk, take a bath, call a friend. They’re right. Sometimes it’s all you’ve got. Take it. I like to read. If that’s you, find away to get lost in a book. Whatever it is for you do it. Find a way. Don’t lose yourself. Don’t become bitter. Stay soft.
Go easy on yourself. You will probably get criticized by someone else. You will definitely criticize yourself. Realize you will make mistakes. Big and small, just like parenting. No one is perfect. There will be second guessing and guilt. It’s like mommy guilt, but now there’s more from someone who might be able to sling it better.
With kids they are growing up and out. With seniors, it is someone who used to have things like hobbies and friends. Health and memories. But they’re losing them. Even so, we can’t be everyone’s everything. Stay strong.
Kids grow up and leave home. Care giving isn’t forever either. It’s the sad truth. It’s temporary. How temporary, no one knows. Maybe that’s what makes it hard. With kids, you have a general idea what stages you’ll progress thorough and when.
Caregiving can be wildly unpredictable. My friend moved in with her 95-year-old mother thinking she would care for her for 6 months. It was 6 years before she died, that’s 101 people! Yeah Vangie! They are two of the nicest people I’ve ever known. It was a great experience for both. Sure it helps my friend is a nurse and her mom was sweet, but 6 years is still a long time. Now she’s caring for her boyfriend with cancer. Ti Jeanne, you rock.
You just never know. And there’s the crux of it. We don’t know. We’ll never know it all. You will pass each hurdle, whether over, under or around, you will make it. Life will move forward.
I want to hear from you. What’s the biggest challenge you face?
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