How to Maintain your Relationship Outside of Caregiving
The shift from child to caregiver is a weird role reversal. This is the person that raised you, and helped shape the person you are today. And after all you’ve been through together, good or bad, you’re now the one taking care of them. It can be heartbreaking to watch the parent that taught you how to walk lose their own personal mobility. In my case, my mom’s mind was sharp but her body was failing her. It was a relentless battle trying to do everything in my power to make things better and find a solution to things I really had no control over.
Some of the decisions forced onto your lap will make you feel like you’re in between a rock and a hard place. How do you decide what to do with your mom who doesn’t understand and is begging you to let her stay at home? It’s awful forcing your mom to leave her house of 60 years no matter how often you remind yourself it’s for their own safety.
Every situation is different, but none of them are easy. This heartbreak can easily turn into resentment towards your loved one who may already feel like a burden. Or they may have a completely opposite reaction of (intentionally or unintentionally) acting out causing stress on your relationship.
Don’t Go into it Alone
The first thing I would recommend to maintain your relationship outside of caregiving is don’t go it alone. I’ve gone into detail on building a natural support system here, but cannot stress its value enough. While you may willingly take on most of the responsibility, don’t claim it all. Just having someone to bounce ideas off or sit in the waiting room of the hospital is comforting. Supporting someone is hard, so let someone support you through the process.
Just because you’re now the one in charge, doesn’t mean your parents don’t deserve to be spoken to as your elder. This is a difficult time and can feel like a loss of independence. It can be embarrassing for a senior to need help from their child to accomplish something that used to be so simple like making dinner. While they may act out or be stubborn, be patient and calm with them otherwise you may harm your relationship.
Be Cautious of Over-Dependence
A common mistake is over-visiting early on. It seems like if you’re trying to stay close with someone you should spend time with them- but this can lead to several negative drawbacks. Each individual is different, but be aware of your own needs. If you’re visiting too often you may be burning yourself out, driving your patience very low. Additionally, your senior may be relying on you too much. If you’re the only person your father sees and all his frustrations come out on you, this can also put a strain on your relationship.
It’s important to set a cap on how much you both can handle. You may feel like you’d give your life for your mother in a heartbeat, but as her 38-year-old son, bathing her is uncomfortable. Establish boundaries of what you both are capable and comfortable doing, and find ways to work out the situations outside your comfort zone. Talking through this calmly can spare unnecessary fights in the future.
Do Activities Outside of Caregiving Duties
Everyone’s relationship with their parents is different. Think of yours before you began caregiving. Did you and your mom go shopping together? Did you and your father enjoy sharing a piece of pie? Was it strictly business? Try recreating some of the things you used to do together. Adjustments may need to be made and they may not be the same, but it’s important to spend time together outside of duties. You may also find that things your parents once enjoyed have changed. Keep an open mind and do not criticize or judge. Aging changes how people interact with the world so meet them where they are today and focus on what they can do not what they have lost. If it is no longer possible to actually recreate the event reminisce over old pictures. My parents and grandparents had boxes of old slides. We would set up the projector and laugh for hours. Even if you and your mom were never the type to sit and gossip- find things you enjoy doing together and value your time.
When you are faced with helping someone make a decision to maintain their independence it can be heart wrenching. They may not understand and beg you to stay at home. They may not want a stranger in the house to help. They are confident that given one last try they can make it work. It will never feel good forcing your mom to leave her house of 60 years no matter how many times you remind yourself it’s for her own safety. So be ready to agree to disagree, and even more so pick your battles. You only have so much time with this person and some things really just are not worth fighting over.