Your work-life balance was tricky even before you were a primary caregiver. After finishing the degree, it was a blizzard of resumes and interviews to land that first job, and once you were on the payroll the treadmill just seemed to keep going faster. Everything was coming together though, and last year you married your longtime sweetheart. But then came the news with dad.
Three weeks later, he moved in and you took on caregiving responsibilities. That meant stepping back at work, and now you don’t have time for anything but cleaning (sometimes), cooking (badly), and looking after your father. And it hurts.
This is an all too common story for so many. And while your caregiving responsibilities are important… so are you.
The Dynamics of Caregiving
Many new caregivers find themselves missing out on life, their kids’ activities, and even Friday morning cups of tea with friends that used to be such a welcome lift at the end of the week. Work/life balance is tough, but work/life/caregiving?
Fortunately, having a life and caring for someone is completely possible, even in the most challenging circumstances. It often begins by establishing in your mind what you wish you had in your life: a sense of proportion.
Caregiving can involve a lot of difficult emotions, like guilt, anxiety, and fear, all of which can leave you stranded at basecamp before you even begin climbing the mountain of practical scheduling and management decisions. And of course, there are tricks and tips for negotiating those sometimes slippery slopes as well. With a little work and a healthy dose of self-care and compassion, you can strike a healthy balance between your caregiving responsibilities and all the other things that make up your busy life.
Setting boundaries and enforcing them is one of the hardest things for many caregivers to do. It’s very understandable: the kind of person who is willing to take on the responsibility of caring for a loved one is already saying a big “YES” to making someone else’s needs a priority in their life.
It doesn’t feel good to say no to someone who needs your help and may be suffering and in pain, but the truth is there is no relationship on earth—no matter how intimate—that doesn’t need some boundaries to be set, and the caregiving relationship is no different.
It’s worth drilling down on what setting boundaries means, because it’s not always clear how to manage the conversation or the concept. In its simplest terms, setting boundaries means making expectations about your role as caregiver clear to all the people in the equation. Obviously you’re not telling a parent in hospice care that they need to be in unmedicated pain for three hours while you go to your son’s school play. But you’re not skipping the play, either.
There’s a big difference between the things you need to do, and what needs to be done. By someone. And who that’s going to be. If caregiving responsibilities are clear and expectations are understood by the person you’re caring for and the family and friends supporting you, everyone will have a much easier time helping you piece the puzzle together.
Stick to Routines and Schedules
To the point above about boundaries, routines and schedules are fantastic tools for avoiding the chaos, crisis thinking, and hurt feelings that stress everyone out and erode the caretaker relationship. Emergencies will happen now and again, but if you’re well organized in advance then they will probably be few and far between.
Things that are usually set in stone are the three M’s: mornings, meals, and medications. Someone is definitely going to have to be there, and a lot of the time it’s probably going to be you. However, your presence is probably not mandatory, and that means you have an opportunity to bring trusted family and friends into the loop. Ideally, if you can make their roles routine as well, you’ll have the best chance of making your Tuesday morning soul time in the garden a regular therapy appointment.
Have Plan B
Eisenhower famously said of plans: “In preparing for battle, I have always found that plans are useless but planning is indispensable.” While this is not strictly true of the caregiver relationship, some days it definitely feels that way! No matter how well you plan, things will inevitably go wrong, change at the last minute, or be interrupted by a legitimate emergency.
Unfortunately, not everything in life can come grinding to a halt at a moment’s notice. Bosses are notoriously unimpressed with absenteeism, and your son is dancing the Nutcracker one night only with the ballet this year. There is no parity between life and the caregiving relationship if caregiving always wins, and for those really important things in life, a backup plan can make all the difference.
Let I-Ally Help You Strike a Balance
We know how hard it is to keep pace with your caregiving responsibilities and the crazy hum of everyday life. I-Ally is committed to supporting and empowering you as you find the balance that works for you and your loved ones. Our online network of experienced caregivers and industry professionals can provide you with practical, real-world guidance and advice for making caregiving a part of living your best life.