So many members of our community manage significant caregiver responsibilities. Even if you don’t think of yourself as a caregiver, if you have a child with medical problems or behavioral, learning, or mental health issues, or if you have a parent, spouse, or other family member or friend whose well-being depends on your regular help, then you are a caregiver. No one’s experience is identical, but there are some pieces of advice that many caregivers find helpful as they juggle the demands on their time and emotions that come with looking after others.
It’s easy in the midst of rushing and worrying and being pulled in many directions to lose your sense of perspective – but it’s that very sense that will help you prioritize your time and energy to focus on what really matters. It will also help you remember that, given all you have on your plate, you’re doing the best you can. It’s easy to berate yourself for not doing all you think you should do, or to be hard on yourself for not doing it as perfectly as you think you should; stepping back to view it all in context can help you cut yourself some slack. I recommend imagining someone else juggling all you do – would you judge her harshly if she couldn’t do it all, or if some of the many things she did were just “good enough?” Or, rather, would you marvel at how she keeps so many balls in the air and only drops the few she does?
You might also try taking a few minutes each day to ask if each item on your “to do” list is something that has to be done. Will not doing it have a truly lasting impact on someone? Some tasks might remain difficult to prioritize – like visiting your mother in the nursing home versus watching one of your daughter’s soccer games – but others, like baking cupcakes for your son’s class, might lose their urgency and free up at least a little of your precious time and energy.
Perhaps the most difficult part of keeping perspective is that it often requires accepting realities that may feel deeply unacceptable. As understandable as it is, trying to fix the unfixable – our child’s chronic medical condition, our father’s dementia, our spouse’s need for 24/7 skilled nursing care – is futile and emotionally draining. I know it is much easier said than done, but with time, support and strength, accepting a painful reality is possible. Doing so can help you regain your sense of perspective, focus your time and emotional energy on what you can do for your loved one, and choose more wisely which demands on your time and emotions to juggle. Remember, given your realities, the best you can do is the best you can do.
Studies have shown that simply sharing the burden with others in the same situation can help provide strength and energy to go on. Taking the time to find supports is difficult, but necessary. Jewish Family Service is here to provide resources, emotional support and practical guidance for the caregivers in our community.
Barbara Gordon (Barbara@jfsri.org) is a licensed independent clinical social worker with Jewish Family Service and provides counseling and case management to individuals and families. She can be reached at 331-1244.