When it comes to family, the term caregiver is not the right label to wear on your lapel when coming to work.
Whether you are a caregiver to your children or a caregiver to your aging parents, you have a much greater emotional commitment to the welfare of a family member than any professionally trained ‘caregiver.’
With that said, let me suggest that neither being a parent nor looking after elderly parents is for everyone. The role of tending to the needs and taking the full responsibility for the safety and welfare of someone is, to some extent, a sacrificial role.
You just can’t put yourself first while being in the position of caring for someone else.
There are compromises to be made and depending on both personality and stage of life, not everyone is able to make such compromises when they are needed.
As an educator, I often came across parents, and sometimes teachers, who found it difficult to balance their priorities with the task of raising and teaching young people.
Some of them lacked the real time necessary to be available when the need for guidance or consolation was there and some of them simply couldn’t compromise their own personal needs to provide the support young people required for their needs.
Often, this inability to find a balance resulted in a great deal of anxiety and conflict.
In the short time I have been caring for my parents, I have listened to the stories of many others who, upon finding out my current role in life, have shared their own family experiences.
I was surprised at how many of those stories began with a catastrophic event (a death or debilitating medical condition) that forced care on to a family member or family members who were not prepared or able to take on such a role.
In the scramble to adapt to this sudden change, the stress and strain on all members of the family was quite significant.
It’s probably fair to say that most families do not have a plan in place should a sudden event occur that requires the family to support a loved one in the event of a change of circumstances.
My family certainly didn’t and thus we were blessed, if such a term is appropriate in this case, to find ourselves dealing with a situation where a gradual decline in health meant that support was not immediate and thus there was time to work out a plan that would make sense.
It’s a plan that, at this point in time, meets the needs of everyone without dramatically disrupting the lifestyle of anyone although it is neither perfect nor easy. There are clear compromises needed.
The issue of caring for our own parents is only going to get more complicated.
A very large generation has reached the retirement stage and while they are generally healthier than their parents were at this age, they are, nonetheless, going to find that health issues will become a bigger focus in their lives and some will suffer catastrophic events that will require family intervention.
With hospitals and care homes already filled to the brim, and professional caregivers in limited supply, it may well fall on the family to provide much of the care needed to support them.
If your parents are reaching that stage, generally after the age of sixty-five, then it might be wise to consider a sibling discussion of a potential plan, not necessarily in minute detail, but some general thoughts about what options might be available.
At least then, as each part of the family looks at their own planning, they will take into consideration how they might be able to find ways to contribute to the potential support network.
• Graham Hookey is an educational and parenting writer and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.