As National Family Caregiver Month comes to end, it is important to recognize that unpaid caregiving is becoming more of a national trend. (I should know – I have been an unpaid caregiver for my mother for several years). With Thanksgiving and the holiday season fast approaching, it might be a great opportunity to discuss how we can support family caregivers more effectively and help them through difficult, emotionally challenging times.
Caregiving Is Becoming More of a Destination Than A Journey – When you look at current trends in caregiving, with more men and Millennials caring for aging parents and relatives. slipping into the cliche that “Caregiving is a journey” can come across as insensitive, patronizing, and possibly out of touch. Sometimes it’s easy to forget that day-to-day caregiving provides numerous challenges to balancing life, work (including job seeking) and leisure time. It would be easy to do what an online support group leader once did, claiming that a participant needed to “believe in themselves” when dealing with numerous stresses. Caregiving is never easy, and caregivers like me find great solace when someone understands regardless of their own caregiving past. Speaking of being present for caregivers…
Encourage Self-Care as a Discipline, Not an Indulgence – Taking a cue from a recent Forbes article, too many people – including caregivers – see self-care as an indulgence. Self-care for caregivers is not about pampering or treating themselves occasionally; it’s about developing a ritual that allows them to manage the challenges of unpaid caregiving more effectively. Exercise, diet, regular physical and mental health checks, and other behaviors can help caregivers develop skills and resilience for handling tough situations.
Offer Tangible Help When Asked – Recently, I attended a caregiver support event where a pair of siblings were looking for a great place to start…and a participant proceeded to lecture about how she “turns her problems over to the Father”. Although “thoughts and prayers” can provide some comfort (and spirituality can play some role in caregiving efforts), early-stage caregivers are at a loss to even start to find needed resources and relief. When a caregiver in your life asks for help, make it tangible and realistic. Whether it’s monetary or a moment of support, supporting friends and colleagues who are caregivers is critical to helping them find moments of quiet. And on that note…
Emphasize face time over Facebook – Caregiving can be time-consuming, and many caregivers don’t take the time to see people face to face. Although it’s easy to check-in via social media, making the effort to engage caregivers in real-time can have greater benefits. Even the act of inviting someone to an outing – whether a high-end event or a casual conversation of coffee – can have extremely beneficial effects, even if the caregiver cannot intend. (As a caregiver, I enjoy being invited to outings as they help me feel less isolated, lonely, and overwhelmed).
If you’re looking for an opportunity for face time and advocacy (as we’ll suggest in the next step), why not consider Raks Geek’s December 13th fundraiser for RIP Medical Debt. Think of it as a way to alleviate stresses for a variety of caregivers, including the one in your life)
Advocate for Caregiver-friendly Policies Although there is a curious political silence about eldercare in our country, there are several caregiver-friendly policies that require strong, consistent advocacy. Supportive services like mental health, Medicaid, and SNAP also frequently face legislative challenges, and these policies directly impact on unpaid caregivers and their elder relatives. Advocating for caregiver-friendly state and federal policies have a greater impact on the caregiving community, and these issues deserve your attention.
For many caregivers, Thanksgiving can serve as the harbinger to even tougher struggles during the holiday season. Social isolation, depression, and potential caregiver burnout and compassion fatigue can color how a caregiver perceives the holidays. Help caregivers like me feel more grateful for the holiday season…all it takes are small acts of kindness and consideration.
Thank you so much for reading; if you would like to continue the conversation, please leave your comments or questions below or join us on our Facebook page. Have a wonderful Thanksgiving and a great holiday!