ENCOURAGEMENT FOR FAMILY CARING FOR CHILDREN AND PARENTS
A goal of Senior Loving Care is to cover a wide range of perspectives and challenges that family caregivers experience. No matter what you are facing, knowing that you are not alone may offer comfort. I sat down with a fellow family caregiver caught in the sandwich generation who cared for her mother while raising an adolescent son. This is her story.
When my mother, with multiple health issues, including hypertension, visual impairment, renal failure, and mental illness—needed care, I was unprepared for what this new responsibility would demand of me. Maybe I’d seen depictions of caring for an aging parent on television or had heard of others caring for someone with declining health, but I definitely had not pre-planned or mapped out any strategies for myself at all. I simply powered through, hoping that my family and I would survive as best we could and learn along the way.
Admittedly, there were many obstacles to overcome, and there were issues I experienced that I had not quite considered before I took on caregiving. Through it all, however, I was able to find a level of peace and joy in the love and support I provided for my mother.
Making Sense of My New Role As a Caregiver
One of the biggest challenges I faced was living nearly an hour away from my mother. Since Mom did not have transportation of her own, it was difficult to reach and assist her in a timely fashion. Prioritizing became a struggle: there were her needs, my son’s needs, my own needs, and everything else in between my demanding schedule. They say you have to take care of the self before everyone else, but when you love someone – the one who birthed and raised you – those lines become easily blurred, and very often, the self gets pushed to the background.
I was a single parent and student pursuing a Master’s degree while working. I was very active in my son’s life, taking him to and from school and making sure he stayed on top of all of his educational and extracurricular activities as well.
I didn’t have enough income to support two households, and my mother, who could not work, only received enough to cover basic expenses. She had some support from her husband and my stepfather as well. It was a serious strain to secure the equipment, medication, and all of the other supplies she needed. Doctor’s visits, hospital visits, and supporting her during dialysis treatments; encouraging her to keep going – when so many days, she lacked the strength and the will. I was also concerned about her being at home by herself. Throughout the week, it felt as if I moved heaven and earth to provide for her, get to her, and make sure she was okay. Once I did arrive at her home, I was reminded and re-reminded just how much help Mom actually needed.
From time to time, my brother helped with Mom’s care. I often thought of caregivers who didn’t have siblings to assist them with their parents, so I considered myself lucky. But I could also appreciate those families with many siblings who could share responsibilities among three or four adults.
My mom required intensive wound care, which was a taxing responsibility to shoulder. Though my brother, step-father, and I agreed to share many of Mom’s care duties, responsibility for the wound was still overwhelming to all of us. It was deep and raw, and neither of us had any specialized medical training. How did doctors expect anyone without medical expertise to care for such a deep wound? How did they imagine it was safe for us even to try? I almost panicked thinking about it at the time. In theory, it was simple to follow the specific instructions, but wound care seemed almost surgical – and we all felt a deep sense of inadequacy as we longed to properly care for our loved one. I worried about what might happen if any one of us failed to administer care correctly.
My mother’s life was in my hands, and it was as if I had adopted another child to care for. My mom was fragile now, and I did not wish to hurt her. Conversely, she was still the full-grown person who had raised and cared for me. She experienced frustration as she lost her autonomy, and sometimes it was challenging to rationalize this new version of her with the mother I’d always known. Psychologically, I had no idea how to handle this. Any instructions the doctor provided did not come with a helping of confidence either.
What I’ve Learned About Caregiving in Hindsight
I realized I was not alone in carrying this burden. Many people are experiencing the sandwich generation challenges of caring for spouses and kids while providing for an ailing parent or family member.
Many of these devoted family members are doing so without any therapeutic intervention. I shouldered these duties without understanding how to process what I was experiencing as a caregiver. Looking back, I see that both my mother and I could have benefited from speaking regularly with a therapist to make sense of these stage-of-life changes and the accompanying emotions. Still, I’ve also been able to extend myself some grace and appreciate some of the precious moments in our time together that made the hard times more bearable.
There was a time when Mom’s foot lost circulation, and she developed wounding that required quite a bit of treatment. One day I was caring for and cleaning her feet and treating them with ointment because the skin was dry, hardened, and cracked. I remember sitting on the floor beneath her as she sat in her wheelchair – washing her feet. As I did, Mom thought this simple act was the greatest thing, and she felt comforted.
After losing her, I reflected on that moment, grateful that I could be there to provide an intimate sense of peace, touch, warmth, and care to my mother. There were so many moments during the course of my day when I carried on automatically just getting things done without thought. But during those minutes with her, I was reminded of the passage in the book of Matthew where Jesus washed the disciple’s feet, and I was glad to have been open, engaged, and present during such a powerful exchange between us.
Following Mom’s death, I also thought critically about the real and pressing need for more awareness of caring for children and parents simultaneously. Whether we wish to discuss it or not, aging and death are unavoidable parts of life. For anyone with aging parents, no matter their health status, having a clearer view of needs, expectations, and processes can be very beneficial. With heightened awareness comes more discussion and the opportunity for increased preparedness.
Additionally, it would be wonderful to be more knowledgeable about the various resources in place to assist with caregiving, particularly when a parent is in the hospital or experiencing a major health decline. Countless families could benefit from a social worker who could help them navigate healthcare and other support systems to manage caregiving responsibilities
Caring for Self While Caregiving is Crucial
One of the most important lessons I learned throughout caring for my mother and my son at once was that I also had to care for myself. Sometimes it felt so guilty just to want to get a minute to myself without anyone needing anything from me. However, I desperately needed that time for myself, and I’m glad that I took it. Self-care is so vitally important to caregivers and those for whom they provide care. After all, no one can take care of anyone else if they don’t first take care of themselves.
If you are a solo caregiver, I urge you to reach out and ask for help, especially if you have not made time for self-care. Whether that time is one day a week or one day every two weeks, take that time for yourself alone and breathe.
If you are a caregiver for an aging parent or family member, know that you are seen, and you are not alone. If you’re afraid, that’s okay. If you’re confused, know that it’s normal. If you don’t have all of the answers, you’re probably on the right track. If you’ve happened to fall into caregiving and you’ve not had any prior experience, there’s no way you’re going to know the ins and outs right away. Just know that in time, you will learn how to incorporate this incredibly important work into your life. What matters most is that you have the courage to keep going and that you know that what you do is very much appreciated.
This story is a great example of how family caregivers persevere daily amidst some of the most extreme circumstances. Check out another story of a caregiver challenged with finding a home for his mother with substance abuse. Please comment or share your experience with our community of family caregivers.