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Starting the Dialogue with your Aging Parents: Caring takes Mental Fortitude

February 3, 2014

February is often tagged as the “Heart Health” month. Make this your heart healthy month by reading through this previously written blog post on how to love, and sometimes not love, your job as a caregiver. Be kind to those you care for, but also be kind to yourself.

As all caregivers know the tasks involved in caregiving–especially for an elderly person–require physical strength. But how many stop to think of the mental fortitude required in caregiving situations?  In caregiving for the elderly there is the conundrum of being an adult (who may have been the child in this household at one time) dealing with another adult (who may now be acting like a child).  How does one maintain order, safety, and respect in such a situation?

One of the first things to recognize and integrate, despite the possibility of close family ties, is that nothing should be taken personally.  This is often difficult to comprehend. If you are a family caregiver for your aging parent your entire relationship has been based on interpersonal interactions. The rules have now changed: nothing is to be taken personally. Get out of your head and deal with this from your heart in order to build mental strength. How? That one word  is probably hovering at the tip of  your tongue and aching to escape with a strong voice.

You will find your own way to the “How.” Each individual will do what is comfortable for them in their situation, but here’s the way some handle it. When you were young, sick with a fever, not wanting to follow doctor’s orders or your mother’s advice you probably threw a temper tantrum, had some tears, or rebelled in your own fashion to something you were being told was for your own good. Your mother, or father, didn’t stop loving you because of your tears, angry words, or harsh tone. They made  excuses for you because you were sick, or stressed, or in pain.

Now it’s time for you to return the favor. This is where you start to understand the concept of “Take nothing personally.”

The next step is to realize that even though you are thinking with your heart, and may feel an obligation to sacrifice yourself, you are not the sacrificial lamb. You must set boundaries and make self-care a priority. Here are some suggestions:

Do you like to read?  Get out of the house and go to the library or bookstore once a week and find new things to engage in your reading habit.

Do you have questions about caregiving? Spend time each day on the internet researching and find a support group or a local organization where you can ask questions and get answers.

Are you tired of cooking a bland diet for the person you care for so they can chew it, easily digest it, process it, and not suffer any stomach upset as a result? Get out once or twice a week to a restaurant, or friend’s house, where you can indulge in the food that you enjoy.

These few suggestions should give you some idea of areas where you may find yourself chafing at the bit for a return to a life you had before taking on the role of caregiver.  Look at all the areas in your life. Are there situations where you feel like a martyr? Are you focusing too much time and attention on the person you are caring for and not on yourself? What good does it do anyone if you are not functioning at your very best?

Ask  yourself these questions and take time to really think about the answers. Answer from a place of neutrality. If necessary ask your friends or a trusted advisor to help you assess these questions and come up with truly honest answers.

As you go through this process make yourself a priority, keep yourself mentally strong, seek friends and others who will assist you in staying on track with your own needs while you meet the needs of the family member or client you care for. The final step is to realize that guilt has no place in this picture. If you are doing your best for yourself and giving your client the best possible care while maintaining your own boundaries there is no room for guilt. It doesn’t exist.

This topic often brings up strong feelings in readers. Feel free to share, ask questions, or tell your story in the comment section.

I’d also like to know if there are specific topics you would like to see addressed. Feel free to let me know. This blog is for your information. Feel free to share it.

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