I don’t know anyone who feels like they can just up and quit taking care of a loved one who needs it. The very nature of this role is that it’s not something you choose.
That doesn’t mean that we don’t often, or even always, wish we could get off the caregiving train. The work’s not fun. It’s unrelenting, hard and requires tremendous sacrifice.
Often in life, quitting can be a healthy thing to do… ending a toxic relationship, leaving a miserable job, or even moving on from a comfortable career so that you can do something more rewarding.
But, there are also times when we, either can’t or don’t really want to stop. We just need to find some way for the pressure, fear, and exhaustion to ease up a little.
If this is your situation, here are 6 questions you need to ask yourself.
Can I Let Go of my Expectations?
Caregivers are navigating unbelievably complex and time-consuming situations. Burnout is inevitable. But what creates the greatest suffering is the feeling that we can’t fix the unfixable. We can’t retrieve our parents’ dignity and happiness.
There’s no greater drain than enslaving yourself to a picture of how things should be. The bigger the gap between your picture and reality, the greater the pressure you’ll feel. And, it’s the burden of unmet expectations – rather than the situation itself — that steals all of your energy.
Letting go of expectations is SO hard but it is possible. Especially if you take it one day, one moment at a time — just try to accept whatever is in front of you no matter how much it disappoints or saddens you. Ask yourself if you can be okay, for just a few minutes, with the imperfection of yours and your parent’s situation.
What Can I Give Up?
As a caregiver, you’re the CEO of a really complicated enterprise. Successful CEOs are constantly re-evaluating their priorities every year, every month, every week and every day to figure out what’s most important. They delegate or let go of everything else. They know that otherwise they’d be ineffective.
Your job is no different. Pick the things every day that’re most important, do those and figure out how to let go of doing everything else.
Sit down and make a list of all the things you CAN give up; and all of things you could offload to other people. Be ruthless. Be strategic.
How Can I Get Help?
Asking for help is one of the hardest things to do. I wrote a whole blog on it.
The two key insights you need to know are, first, that you have to be willing to risk rejection. Not everyone wants to help but PLEASE – that shouldn’t stop you from asking. Check out this amazing TEDx talk on the fear of rejection. It’s funny and inspiring!
And, second, beware of the inclination to try and do everything yourself so you can be the hero. It’s scary how much I relish doing everything myself, and then I complain about it.
Do I Need a Break?
Really push yourself to consider whether you should and can take a break.
One of the top challenges I hear from daughters is that there is no feasible way for them to take a break. There’s no one they can rely on to take care of their parents in their absence.
But, a break is better than a break-down. There may be respite care programs at your local area agency on aging. If you can afford it, you should consider hiring someone to take your place once in awhile. And, if you haven’t asked a sibling or other family member to step in (see above), it’s time to try. Even teenagers can be enlisted.
How Can I Prioritize My Health?
We’re so lucky that our Atlanta Daughterhood Circle leader, Elizabeth Miller, has also created the Happy Health Caregiver blog and website. Her mission is to help overwhelmed caregivers create balance in their lives.
In her post The #1 Mistake Caregivers Make , she recommends that by packing “your Caregiver toolkit full of energy”, You’ll “set yourself up for success on a daily basis…”
She further to explains that you can “Sustain your energy by getting the sleep you require and by eating whole foods as much as you possibly can.” “take vitamins and supplements to optimize your health.” which “allows you to be ready for a tough day like an emergency trip to the hospital or an unexpected mess at the house.”
Is it Time to Seek Facility-Level Care for Your Parent?
Never for a moment think that moving your parent into a facility is the same as quitting caregiving.
You’ll still be your parent’s most important advocate and caregiver. But, you’ll have your house back and/or some peace of mind.
Don’t let the fear of what others may think cloud YOUR thinking. The decision to make this move can be the bravest and best thing you can do. So, work on leaving the guilt behind and always look forward, taking it one day at a time, living in the moment!!
I struggle constantly with the urge to give up. It’s all or nothing with me — I’m either a conquering hero of my professional and personal worlds, or wishing I could open an ice cream stand someplace where it’s always warm. But the paradox is that the true hero’s path — the journey that produces the best results over the long-term — is one that has many places to stop and rest for awhile.
My lesson to learn over and over is put beautifully by this quote:
“The world won’t get more or less terrible if we’re indoors somewhere with a mug of hot chocolate.”
― Kamila Shamsie, Burnt Shadows
And finally, download here Daughterhoods’ one page of tips and encouragements for when you feel like throwing in the towel. Put it on your fridge and when you look at it, imagine that we’re all having a cup of tea or a glass of wine together and know you’re not alone.