I am currently reading a delightful memoir by Anna Quindlen entitled “Lots of Candles, Plenty of Cake”. She discusses the dilemmas of today’s “sandwich generation”, those of us who have both elderly parents and children over the age of 18 who still need our support. Thanks to medical advances, the average lifespan has increased considerably. This means that more of us than ever before are lucky enough to have parents still living when we are in our 50s and 60s and even 70s. Often our parents need our help. In addition, a shift has occurred so that more adult children are still living with their parents or having difficulty becoming fully independent and “launched”.
As Quindlen puts it, “The irony is rich–the women’s movement taught us we could be more than caregivers, and now we’re caregivers to more people than ever before.”
In addition to elderly parents and unlaunched children, women also often serve as caregivers for others in their lives. Sometimes it is their spouse, or their partner. It may be a sibling or a friend. Sometimes they care for the family member who has developed a severe illness. They may care for the friend who is suddenly grief-stricken after a loss. Women often nurture, and care for those who need caring.
Caregiving has many rewards, and gives life much of its richness and meaning. But sometimes the burden of caregiving can be physically and emotionally depleting. So what can be done to make sure that the caregivers of our world are cared for as well?
Here are some ideas on how to take care of yourself if you are a caregiver:
1. Ask for help. Is there a friend or family member who can relieve you, or can share some of your responsibilities?
2. Look for ways that you can set limits. Are there some activities on your calendar that can be reduced or eliminated? Give yourself permission to say “no” without guilt.
3. Seek ways to give yourself breaks, even something as simple as taking a walk or reading a book. A meal with a friend is even better.
4. Seek someone to confide in. It can help alot just to be able to vent, to discuss the stress that you feel as you try to take care of those you love.
5. Write in a journal about how you feel. Try to use your journal to direct your thinking in a positive direction. One exercise that can help is to use your journal to identify what you are grateful for each day.
6. Give yourself an emotional pat on the back for what you are doing to care for another. Let yourself feel good that you have helped someone.
What other suggestions do you have for how to help caregivers?