Why caregiving should be a team sport
By Paula Erwin-Toth
People who live with any chronic disease often have loved ones by their sides day in and day out, on good days and bad. Awareness of the need to care for the caregiver is gaining ground in patient/family support and advocacy groups, the healthcare community, insurance companies, and state and federal governments.
Many caregivers have said that there is nothing more painful than not being able to alleviate the pain and distress of a loved one. When someone you love is suffering, you suffer right along with them. You may not be experiencing the symptoms they experience or endure the pain they face on a daily basis, but your heart aches for them.
Knowing and doing
For those of us who are or have been a family caregiver, we understand the need to take care of ourselves so we can be better equipped to care for someone else. We know that exercise, rest, good nutrition and hydration and budgeting time for fun activities or to do absolutely nothing can contribute immeasurably to keep us in tip-top shape. But, knowing what you should do and actually doing it are two completely different things.
Learn to share responsibility
It can get very stressful and complicated when you attempt to change a routine. Your loved one may fear change and you may be reluctant to give up some duties and control. I am reminded of the time in my family where a new mom was reluctant to entrust any baby caring duties to her husband. She was somehow convinced that this competent, loving man was incapable of giving the baby a bath or changing his diaper. Granted, he had never been around babies, but until she gave birth neither had she! It took a small army, including her grandma, to get her out of the house and leave her husband to parent their son. We went out to dinner and a movie, and she practically dove out of the car when we pulled in their driveway. Guess what? All was well. Baby was bathed and asleep dressed in a fresh onesie. Granted, the baby’s diaper was put on backward, but that was an easy fix for the next diaper change. Her husband was so proud and happy! It was then that she finally realized parenting was a shared responsibility. Even though they may have done things a bit differently, all would be well.
Doing things your own way
Later her husband confessed to me that it had been a nightmare. As soon as we left, his beautiful little son started to scream, pee, vomit, and poop. He almost called his wife to beg her to come home. Fortunately, he decided to call his friend, a very involved father of four, instead. His buddy told him that trying to imitate every move his wife made. The baby was probably scared because he could feel his daddy was tense. His friend advised him to hold the baby against his skin in the baby wrap and then suggested playing an online video game together. And guess what? Dad calmed down, laughed, and had fun, and baby went to sleep.
Caregiving is a team sport
The purpose of my long winded story is that sharing the caregiving role can be very stressful for all parties involved. Realize other caregivers may not do things exactly your way but as long as your loved one is safe that is OK. Your loved one may be anxious (or even perhaps a little jealous) when you are out and about on your own. Recognize that you might feel a little bit jealous and possessive yourself. Caregiving should be a team sport, and just like professional athletes keeping your team members healthy with rotations, substitutions, and rest will help ensure success.
Remember, caring for yourself will help you stay in shape, both emotionally and physically, and that will help you be a better caregiver for your loved one.