When all your caregiver responsibilities seem like a top priority, how can you make a choice?
Overextended and overwhelmed, people serving as family caregivers often lose their sense of self. It’s not easy choosing between competing priorities: family, career, community, and personal well-being.
I’m talking again about members of the sandwich generation, adults who are looking after their aging parents and young children simultaneously. One of the hardest parts of taking care of multiple members of your family is feeling like you’re always disappointing someone or missing something important.
I’ve spoken with many sandwich generation-ers who are skipping lunch to check on Mom, leaving work early to take the kids to practice and spending weekends catching up on work. To top it all off, they often find themselves so busy taking care of everyone else that they neglect their own needs.
What makes choosing between all your responsibilities so difficult is that each of them is important. You don’t want to say no to anything. You can’t always put off taking care of your various family members, your job, and yourself until tomorrow—but there are some strategies for balancing these duties.
Here are five things we often tell the family caregivers in our local communities:
Five Tips for Prioritizing Your Caregiver Responsibilities
1) Discern and decide.
Not all claims on your time are equally urgent. Multiple work/life commitments mean some things may have to wait. Learn to distinguish between matters that need immediate attention, such as a medical complication, and those that don’t. To resolve dilemmas, share your conflicts and ask those involved for their input. People are often more understanding and flexible than we expect.
2) Set expectations.
Be realistic. Saying no can be uncomfortable, but the reality is you can’t say yes to everything. Though crises may arise, it is typically unnecessary and unreasonable to be at someone’s beck and call 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
As part of the expectation-setting process, talk about your availability. Be honest about what’s feasible for you. Define what constitutes an emergency meriting immediate attention. The alternative is feeling manipulated, which frequently leads to resentment, conflict, and guilt pangs.
3) Listen to yourself.
As you mull over your schedule, pay attention to your own words. For example, “should” tends to evoke a sense of guilt (“I should go visit Mom” or “I really should go to Karly’s concert”).
Instead, try substituting “need” or “want.” For example, “I need to go visit Mom” or “I really want to go to Karly’s concert.”
Then consider the timing. Maybe visiting Mom can wait until tomorrow since Karly’s concert is tonight.
4) Relinquish some responsibility.
It’s human nature to want to be everything to everyone, but remember it’s okay to ask for help. Try to avoid taking on the entire responsibility for your aging parents in addition to your children and career.
Instead, acknowledge the dilemma and ask your parents if they have a backup plan. If not, help them develop one. For example, if you’re unable to drive Mom to her doctor appointment, explore alternatives (calling a cab, asking a friend or neighbor for a ride).
5) Introduce the idea of accepting assistance.
Accepting assistance is often the best way to maintain independence. Talk with your aging parents about limitations they may currently be experiencing (diminished vision or hearing, limited mobility or stamina) and how introducing hired caregivers will allow them to remain in their homes.
If denial or resistance to the conversation is a concern, you might point out that not making decisions now may limit future options or even eliminate choice altogether.
Now, find some time to talk with your loved ones.
Take some time to have these critical conversations with your aging loved ones as soon as possible. I know this is sometimes a difficult step, but when expectations are set appropriately and plans are put in place early, you’ll feel more in control of the situation and your life as time goes on.
What do you think you could do today to start improving your situation? Do you have any suggestions for balancing caregiver responsibilities?
Please share with us in the comments or on Facebook.