Recently, I was thrust into caregiving. It came about as a result of a sudden illness of my loved one. I have heard about and witness my friends and family giving care to their loved ones. From a sick parent to an elderly bedridden parent. My friends’ experience of caregiving was a paradigm shift demonstrated in a change of roles between children and parent. Literally, my friends found themselves taking care of their parent/s, and they were totally unprepared, in every way, shape, and form. Helplessly, they plod on learning about caregiving.
With caregiving, some folks are unable to handle this paradigm shift and so they turn the care of their loved one over to trained caregivers, for example, a ‘home for the elderly’. There is nothing really wrong with that, for caregiving, as it turns out is a full-time job, and one has to be really prepared for the job.
Have the thoughts about caring for a loved one ever crossed your mind in the real sense? Giving support to a hailing parent, or comforting a suffering child, for example? That is what a family caregiver does. He or she, provide any type of physical and/or emotional care for an ill or disabled loved one at home. Loved ones in need of care, could be suffering from a physical or mental illness, disability, substance misuse, or other conditions. So, caregiving is about providing whatever the person need to feel better. http://www.netofcare.org
Are We Prepared for Caregiving?
From nine months of pregnancy – or in my case seven months, yes a preemie baby, my husband and I prepared somewhat, to care for this tiny baby girl. From attending lamas classes to talks with the nurses and doctors at the ‘preemie’ clinic after her birth and then the pediatricians. They all provided guidance on how to care for a special baby. But caring for my parents, was there any preparation or lessons taught? No! Not really. Now, in my forties, and the only daughter, I suddenly have the responsibility of caring for my parents. My other siblings away, I am entrusted with this responsibility, which is a whole new realm. My life was turned in a different direction from one phone call, which said, “your Dad has taken a turn for the worst”. No child wants to hear such news. And in the space of a minute, I had to rethink my life and my modus operandi.
My New Job
Giving care to my parents was very sudden and without warning. On hearing about my loved one’s illness, my thoughts kicked in, “hey, you have a new job, you are now a family caregiver”. My thoughts switched immediately to, how does one really give care to their parent/s? How do you give care and maintain your own life, being a wife and mother, taking care of four-year-old? What about the other changes, for example, my weekend plans moving from doing my own thing – to going home every weekend? The answer to those questions is summed up in (1) understanding what it means to give service and (2) how love plays a very important role. Without those two major components, being a family caregiver can be most difficult.
In recent times, when I started traveling every weekend to my beautiful home in St. Mary, I had to shift my thinking. In fact, the reality came that I am a family caregiver. I thought, wow, this is a huge job. It is nothing like caring for a preemie baby. It is hard work.Assisting them with their needs, and taking care of the home is overwhelming. This was nothing I was prepped for. I had to just jump right in, along with my immediate family. Even though there are good neighbors and friends around my parents, it was still my responsibility to ensure their immediate care. These thoughts kept flooding in. “Girl, you are now in a reverse role, you are taking care of your parents, who cared for you from you from birth”. I had to stop and breath.
The Roller Coaster Ride
Suddenly I feel like I am a roller coaster ride. The role of family caregiver comes with its own emotional roller coaster. Can I really do this? Am so unprepared. Am I even ready to switch roles? Am I going to do a good job? I believe many people who are thrust into this responsibility suddenly, was most times unprepared. The child/children who had to switch roles and become a family caregiver, either just accept the new role of caregiving or choose to hand over the caregiving to trained individuals. The handing over decision is met with some confusion due to lack of preparation and knowledge. In addition, these individuals face mixed emotions guilt, worry, and sympathy.
I am now understanding that being a family caregiver is a huge responsibility that requires training and preparation, because of the service that one has to render. We have to understand the type of training required, how to respond, and how to handle the stress that comes with being a family caregiver.
Being a family caregiver comes with its own fair share of work, as discussed above. I believe some recommendations are in order for those of us who decide to become a family caregiver. We should endeavor to:
- Seek training from an expert. In the case of caring for a sick or elderly parent or a child etc, training in family caregiving is paramount.
- Counseling is important to assist with life changes in both yours and/or parent/s of which you are now caring.
- Discuss early with the individual about managing personal functions they are now unable to do, for example, banking, grocery shopping, bills paying etc.
- Seek advice and suggestions from others who have had the experience of being a family caregiver. Hearing another person experience will help to alleviate the anxiety with this new adventure.
- Make family caregiving an adventure. This probably sounds funny, but life is not without adventures, and when you see a task as an adventure, then it will seem less daunting.
- Learn how to delegate and share the responsibilities with our other siblings, members of the family, friends of the family and church family. Delegating proves to be an essential task to help with the responsibilities that one will undertake.
- Find time to ‘self-care’. Rest is imperative here. Getting plenty of sleep and downtime is a necessity. Meditation will help with relaxing during the downtime, as it relieves stress and fatigue, giving a peace of mind.
- Design an exercise programme for you. For example, let us say you have to lift a parent who might be bed ridden. Then proper exercising of certain muscles, like your back, is ideal, as your back will be used for lifting the weight of an adult
All of these components, do not exhaust the recommendations of becoming a family caregiver, but it is a start.