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Jenny and Blair suggest ways to combine careers and caregiving
I have a family dilemma that’s threatening my sanity. My 85-year-old father is living with us and I feel like a single parent all over again, having to deal with his growing health concerns. He has fallen several times and has difficulty caring for himself, but he refuses to consider moving into a home. I feel badly about sounding resentful but it’s a big responsibility, on top of my own work schedule. Any suggestions on how to deal with this?
I applaud your earnest desire to keep your father comfortable and to return the kindness to the parent who raised you. That said, we would never expect someone to jump into a new job position with no experience or training, but we expect ourselves to slide into the demanding role of caregiver for elderly parents, while holding down full-time positions outside the home. Unless you’re in the health care industry, many people don’t have the proper skills for dealing with the specific needs of a senior in the later years of his or her life.
The senior phase of life can be emotionally draining and physically demanding for caregivers, and inevitably, there comes a point where you have to be honest with yourself about what you can actually handle. It sounds like you arrived at that point.
Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge that you only have so much time, and you may have limited skill in dealing with this stage of your father’s life. Even though he may be comfortable with you and resistant to alternative living conditions, it may not be the best situation for him if you’re not able to provide him with the best possible care. I have heard of cases where seniors resist and resist, but once they make the move, they wish they’d done it years earlier. My parents recently made the move into a senior’s complex with varying degrees of support. Although they dearly miss their lakeside sunsets, they are delighted by their new friendships and social activities. They also have the reassurance of 24-hour support just down the stairs if something were to happen to either of them (which is huge relief for us, being an hour away).
With the emphasis today on keeping elderly people in their homes, there are several government programs and support groups for caregivers as well as independent companies that provide in-home care. At the very least you could tap into these resources so that you find support for both your father and yourself.
For seniors who are still mobile, I recommend seeking out senior’s yoga classes, which would help to strengthen their bodies, improve balance, transition safely from one position to another and prevent falls.
We’re living in different times than before. In the past, people lived at home and stayed in the communities they grew up in, which yielded copious support for family members. Today, people are spread out around the world and don’t have the same family or community support to deal with aging parents like we once did. One of our neighbours called this phenomenon “garage communities” with the extent of our neighbourhood relationships being a casual salute to one another as we drive in and out of our covered garages.
You need to cut yourself some slack and stop trying to be everything to everyone. No, you’re not a failure for asking for additional support or transitioning them into a supportive living situation, you’re providing them with the care they need as it’s required. If your well-being (and sanity) is negatively affected by this arrangement, and their health is in question because of your limited availability, then you’re definitely doing the right thing for everyone involved.
Guilt can be a powerful motivator, but it’s not always a healthy one. Life can throw us curve balls, causing us to reframe previous vows and promises we’ve made to loved ones. Finding a different living environment for him doesn’t mean you’re abandoning him, or acting unkindly. It simply means that his needs have exceeded your ability to provide for him. Instead of feeling overwhelmed by guilt and remorse, affirm to yourself that you’re using wise discretion and making decisions with his best interests in mind, and yours. Sometimes the wisest thing we do in life is to accept our limitations and move forward in a way that honours our own needs as well as others.
So many of us were told growing up to care for everyone else first. If that’s true for you, it’s essential that you put your own name at the top of the list of people you need to care for. I encourage you to consider your own well-being as you care for your father by making the commitment to yourself to never compromise your own physical safety or emotional well-being.
Bottom line, we can’t desert our parents in their time of greatest need, and yet we can enlist support so that we don’t abandon our own needs in the process.
Blair Abbass and Jenny Kierstead are certified therapists, award-winning educators and partners in life and business. They are the co-founders of Breathing Space Yoga Studio/Teacher Training, Yoga in Schools and Girl on Fire. They have been married for 17 years, but who’s counting.
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