My previous post discussing caregiver burnout...well, many of my friends and readers noticed. And I wish I had waited to write it since I recently learned that November is "National Family Caregiver Month." And has been since President Obama declared it so in 2012).
And this year's theme, "Supercharge Your Caregiving", portraying caregivers as superheroes...well, for this caregiver, it's extremely tone deaf. It romanticizes it when really, it is a challenge. It's a challenge for me to deal with day-to-day duties, and I know it's a challenge for my friends. (Although the way caregivers can "supercharge" their work is through tech...but to be honest, most of the time caregivers like me need basic human contact.
I have no problem asking for help, but I know many of my friends who have not "been there" wonder how they can help. So this week, I'm offering some suggestions about how you can help, and what you might want to consider. Think of it as a positive spin on my previous post, and with recent news about federal legislation towards "supporting" family caregivers...I thought it might be good to provide some guidelines for those who may be unable to have these conversations.
The first thing I want to say is that caregiving brings up a lot of difficult emotions. I empathize with those friends who have no idea how they can help; I often want help but am unsure what to request. I know I can't ask my friends, "Hey, sit with Mom while I do stuff" (My friends are all over the city, and I get breaks when Mom's homemaker arrives), and schedules are often difficult to coordinate. So I understand how difficult it can be for them to know how to support my caregiving efforts, and having informal face-to-face gatherings is often difficult.
However, getting together with friends to socialize and feel connected does happen. Thanks to winning a contest (which I did not expect), I was able to see two of my friends with their troupe perform at their new theater. (Hint: here's an interview with one of them from earlier this year). Another friend - a more recent colleague from a past activity - reached out because he was concerned. We ended up hanging out, walking, and having a decent conversation. So yes, I am touching base with people - and it can be challenging - but it can be done.
(And yes, I am getting outside help for dealing with greater struggles around caregiving. And if you want to read this as code for mental health issues, I won't stop you).
Another thing to keep in mind...if you're looking to do things with us, try to keep it frugal. As one of my fellow Chicago Now bloggers reminded me on Facebook, caregiving for Mom isn't a paid position. (Yes, I've looked into being a paid caregiver; without going into details, that's not an option for me). My resources, such as they are (and I'm always looking for full-time work and/or consulting gigs) are limited. So the fact that I'm not exactly "crushing it" in the gig economy should not be seen as a lack of effort...more as a huge restriction of time. (Try to think of it this way: I'm like a parent of a toddler...only that toddler is seventy years old). Put simply: casual coffees and get togethers are much easier to schedule than attending paid high-end networking events.
On a final note...yes, talking to caregivers about our experiences is awkward and can be difficult. You want to be empathetic, and want to say the right thing. My suggestion is that you not only avoid these seven things you should never say to a caregiver..but also be careful when using two specific statements. They are things that are commonly said with the best intentions...but often ring false:
- "You're really a good person for doing this"
- "Caring for a parent isn't a burden - it's a blessing"
Unless you've been a caregiver (and three of my friends actually have been in my position when saying this), these statements have all the warmth and empathy of "thoughts and prayers" after a school shooting. These statements almost always ring false in my ears, and I have to remind myself that they are said with the best intentions. (Except for friends who have informed me of their own history of caregiving; I know they are speaking from experience, and I can accept what they say more easily)
Although many adult caregivers find their efforts meaningful, many others (like me) have to work hard to endure moment by moment. Complicated emotions around grief, loss, and a sense of obligation make things difficult. Caregivers do need regular support...and hopefully, this post can help those who know and love caregivers make a greater effort to reach out.
Several people have reached out to me since my caregiver burnout post, and I'm making my way back. I only hope I can do the same for others.