Gary Gilles is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in private practice for over 20 years. He is also an adjunct faculty member at the University ...Read More
Ted watched his father care for his frail mother for over 11 years as the one and only caregiver. Though friends and family members occasionally offered to help, Ted’s father felt that it was his spousal duty to serve her in this way, and do it alone. But when Ted’s father died suddenly of a massive heart attack, it left Ted’s mother with no one to care for her needs. As the oldest adult child, Ted now feels a responsibility to follow his father’s example of sacrificial love and assume the role of sole caregiver for his mother. This entails stopping by her house before and after work each day to check on her and help with unfinished chores. But it doesn’t stop there. On weekends he runs errands for her, does home projects that need attention and transports her to doctor’s appointments. After only a month of this routine Ted has begun to feel burned out. The physical and emotional strain of adding caregiving to his already busy life makes him feel like he is headed for a breakdown if something doesn’t change soon.
It’s obvious to everyone that Ted needs help with his caregiving responsibilities; obvious, that is, to everyone except Ted. He knows he is stressed to capacity, but surprisingly, it never occurs to him to ask other family members or friends for help because he has a fixed belief that he must do this and do it alone. Like his father, he feels no one could care for his mother as well as he can. It is almost like his repayment plan to his mother and father for all they have sacrificed for him these many years. So, he labors on; perhaps to the detriment of everyone involved.
What Ted doesn’t realize is that there is a better caregiving option available that would help preserve his health, give him time and energy to attend to his own family’s needs and still provide quality care for his mother.
Sharing the care
The solution to Ted’s inevitable burnout is to build a team of people who can share the caregiving duties. This team can consist of family members, friends, neighbors, or people from the community. Ted didn’t realize that there were many people in his life willing to lend a hand with caregiving duties on a regular basis. But he never made his needs known.
Perhaps you are in a similar situation. For most solo caregivers, the hardest part of building a caregiving team is asking for help. But the benefits can be great for everyone involved. First, the more help you get, the less likely you are to burn out physically or emotionally. Second, involving others in the care gives you and your loved one a broader base of emotional support and encouragement, which you both need. It also acts as a hedge against social isolation, which is so common among solo caregivers. Studies have repeatedly shown that a strong emotional support network is the best way to avoid depression, loneliness and feelings of hopelessness. The third reason for sharing the care is to allow others the privilege of serving you and your loved one. Caregiving is a profound expression of love. To deny others the opportunity to help robs them of the joy that they might gain by being involved in the caregiving process.
The first place most caregivers turn for help is to immediate family members. These might include siblings, adult children, grandchildren or other relatives. Because there is an investment in these lifelong relationships between family members, most are eager to share in the care of a loved one if asked.
Even family members who live far away can be involved in caregiving. They might agree to pay bills online, talk with doctors, research local agencies, or call regularly to talk with the loved one.
More distant relatives, less close friends, neighbors, and community organizations can also provide support. Suggest that these people help in small ways, such as walking the dog, running an errand, watering the lawn and garden, mowing the grass or providing companionship through phone calls or occasional visits.
This is your starting point for building a caregiving team. But you may have to go beyond simply asking others for help. In part two, we’ll talk about scheduling a plan for caregiving tasks and tapping into community services that can serve as additional help.