Saturday, February 2, 2008

Default Caregiving One More Time

"I thought I would benefit by doing family caregiving but it didn’t work out that way and now I’m stuck!"

Many people get a free place to live by taking care of an ailing parent or other relative. It looks like an easy way to take a break from ongoing financial struggles and it provides a service to someone else at the same time. Everyone wins! Or so it seems, at first. But when dementia is involved—and often when it isn’t—the dependency that care receivers tend to develop for their primary caregivers gradually takes its toll.

The caregiver gladly does what appears to be needed. It’s wonderful to know you are needed and to know exactly what needs to be done and just do it. Far easier, at first, than tackling the issues in one’s own life! But then, slowly but surely, the care receiver starts to need more help. Whether this situation is caused by continued physical and mental deterioration or by unconscious emotional dynamics between the care receiver and caregiver doesn’t matter. Eventually, unless this process is anticipated and avoided from the beginning, the caregiver’s ability to focus on her own life can become consumed by the care receiver’s ever increasing need for care.

A caregiver in this situation usually feels like she doesn’t have the energy to deal with her own life and be a caregiver at the same time. But by putting off addressing her own problems she’s undermining her self-confidence and increasing her anxiety and feelings of dependency. When I talk about giving up being the primary caregiver a person in this situation always balks because they believe they need to continue caregiving in order to have their own needs for housing, etc. met (as well as to ensure that the care receiver continues to get the level of care they appear to be depending on). The caregiver needs to make a change because this situation is intolerable but they’re too afraid to relinquish the role. She isn’t necessarily stuck in this situation—the family would just make new choices if she bowed out—but she is too afraid to do that.

A caregiver in this situation needs to consciously choose to separate her financial concerns from caregiving responsibilities by scheduling time specifically for getting help for this issue. Depending on what the situation is, a financial planner, credit card counselor, career counselor or professional coach would be worth their weight in gold. You might need to go back to school, sign up for a job training program or get a paid part-time job.

Once you look into this, you may need to make alternate arrangements for taking care of your family member so you can follow through. But, more likely, you might decide that being there for your mom is actually the most important thing you could be doing—as long as you can relieve your anxiety about the future by having a plan that will help you pick up the pieces of your life after your caregiving responsibilities are over. If so, that’s the conversation to start having with your friends and family: thinking ahead to the time when the care receiver will no longer be living, or when they will no longer be living at home, and getting help to set a plan in place to tide you over that transition (temporary housing, assistance with basic needs, schooling or counseling) so you can feel better about your caregiving role, knowing that your future is being cared for as well.

The previous blog was an excerpt from The Spiritual Journey of Family Caregiving. Click here to buy it now.

No comments: