Family Caregivers: Don't Forget to Make Time for Relationships

People don’t always plan on becoming a caregiver to a loved one.  Sometimes it’s a parent, sometimes a partner, sometimes even a child who ends up requiring a level of care that can seem daunting to even the most organized and efficient person.  Regardless of the other responsibilities you have, being a family caregiver can consume all your energy – both physical and mental – as the job is huge and seemingly never ending. 

Physically, you are in charge of your loved one’s well-being which often includes cleaning, cooking, toileting, running errands, taking them to appointments, and more.  You are in charge and expected to have the physical energy of a 5-year-old after a candy spree in order to accomplish everything.  Mentally, you are tasked with watching someone you love deteriorate or suffer.  You face their backlash when they are angry over being unable to do the tasks they want.  You worry about their well-being, their health, and constantly try to find ways to make their lives better.

Female caregiver helping and elderly woman taking her medication by Shestock   on 500px.com

Is it any wonder that in all this, you, the caregiver, are often forgotten?

One of the biggest problems family caregivers face is trying to do too much with little to no support leading them to sickness themselves.  At this stage, they face isolation as they have often let their other relationships fall to the wayside during the task of caring for the person they love.

The fact remains that as a family caregiver, you need to make time for yourself and for your other relationships, for they will be essential to your well-being.  Your relationships outside of the caregiving one will be those that help sustain you when you need it, they will be the ears that listen when you think you’re falling apart and can’t do it anymore, and they will be the people that pick you up when you’re exhausted and need a break.  These are the people who will be there to help you, just as you are helping another.  It may be the simple act of picking up some groceries for you or dropping off a homemade meal.  It may be coming over to watch a movie and keep you company after a particularly hard day.  It may be helping you brainstorm how to get everything done when you don’t think it’s possible and are ready to give up.

Maintaining your other relationships should be seen as maintaining your life line – without them, you are risking your own well-being.  Although in the moment it can seem like we simply can’t make time for frivolous things like coffee or a drink with a friend or a phone call to catch up with others, these are the things that will keep the lines open so that when you need help, that help is a phone call away.  It’s much harder to make that call and ask for help if you haven’t kept up the relationship to begin with.

Old friends by Benjamin lassen on 500px.com

What do you do if you haven’t kept in touch so far?  Is it ever too late?

No.

The joy of good relationships is that they can withstand a few storms here and there, even a vacation or two, and still have the strong foundation that was there before.  It does mean you may need to make a bit of an effort going forward though and that may mean a few changes on your behalf.  The most notable change is making sure those around you know you want to maintain the relationship.  Be honest with them that you may not have the time you always did because of your new responsibilities, apologize for the lack of being in touch (if that’s a reality for you), and make it clear to them that you value the relationship.  Being open and honest with people is essential at this time and if the relationship is a strong one, they will understand the changes that are inevitably going to happen and will forgive you for any past absences.

Once you make it clear you want to stay in touch, the key is to stay in touch.  We talk about being in touch with people often, but actually following through – especially when we have so much on the go and feel like everything we do for others has to be a higher priority – is hard.  The key to making sure you actually do stay in touch is to set aside regular, habitual times for each relationship.  Most people make the mistake of trying to do something too frequently and when they can’t keep up, they end up giving up the time altogether.  For the very few relationships that are closest to us, making time weekly or bi-weekly should be a priority whereas relationships that are a bit more distal may only need connections every month or two, but the more regular they are (e.g., every Monday or the second Tuesday of every month), the easier it is to make sure you follow through.

Man with phone by Jaromír Chalabala on 500px.com

Another mistake people make is thinking connection needs to be setting aside hours when in fact short, regular times are far better than longer, sporadic times.  A 30-minute phone call (or Skype or Facetime) or watching a TV show together take up minimal time, but are excellent ways to bond.  If you have a joint interest, such as knitting or skating, setting aside 30-60 minutes a week/month to take part in that activity with a friend is another great way to connect and catch up.  You don’t need three hours, just half an hour regularly will do.

The relationships we have sustain us.  We need them to survive, especially during the times when we think we can’t possibly maintain them because of other overwhelming responsibilities.  Please take the time to care for yourself and make sure that you maintain your relationships because chances are you’ll need them to help you.  Just as you help others.


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