Thursday, May 7, 2009

Your Situation Is Unique

This week here at Parentcare 101, we're talking about some life-long lessons that we caregivers need to take to heart. Today's topic discusses a fact that we often forget. Everyone's caregiving situation is unique. Let me share some stories from caregivers I've met.

Martha lives farthest from her hometown where her father still lives. She gets along well with one of her brothers, but has never felt close to the other two. Now that her father is ailing, she knows that they all need to talk about what’s going to happen, how they will care for him. It doesn’t help that her father is the classic curmudgeon. She dreads the conversation for she knows her brothers will expect her to do everything—and if she’s not careful, she just might take on that traditional role.

Kenneth is an only child. He and his parents have always been close and when his mom and dad both fell ill, he did not hesitate to arrange his life so that he could be with them as much as possible. He commutes the 100 miles several times a week. After a year, his wife can’t understand his continued devotion. She’s not sure she could do that for her parents. But she does understand that the hours Kenneth spends, he gives freely, from love.

Jordan’s father was abusive and walked out on the family when Jordan was 12. Now, when Jordan has a family and a good job, his ailing father is demanding aid from him. Jordan gave his father the number of the Area Agency on Aging in his father’s city and left it at that.

In my own situation, I was very surprised when a social worker commented, “You’re very fortunate, you know. You and your sister are talking and agree on the kind of care your mother should have. And all your relatives are happy to let you do what you want in the situation. That’s pretty rare.”

Family circumstances mold the way we approach a parent’s care. Some adult children freely give their time to their parents out of love. Others must wrest their caregiving from a morass of negative memories. In some families, the siblings are not talking. In some families, parent and child are best friends; in others, there is pitched battle whenever the two meet. Adult children live at varying distances; one with four children, one with none, all of them holding jobs, some married, some not. The variations of family types are infinite.

To add to the confusion, there is no contract between you and your parent, spelling out how much you owe your parent. There was no legal document drawn up at your birth with the mutual obligations specified. There are no guidelines to tell you how much each sibling should contribute or will. You make those decisions for yourself.

Across families, the care choices to be made, questions to be answered and the emotions are often the same—do we use home health care or move Dad to an assisted care facility? I'm so relieved Mom is settled in her new place. Which nursing home? I feel guilty that I’m not doing enough. How much can Mom do on her own? How will we pay for Dad’s care? I'm angry that my sister won't do more.

But for each situation, the caregivers enter uncharted territory. The way the decisions are made and how they are carried out are always different, based on the family situation.

Choose what’s best for the FAMILY.

Your family includes, first of all, YOU. Then comes everyone closest to you : spouse, children, parents and everyone involved with the caregiving: siblings, friends, relatives. That’s a lot of people, all of whom have worries, responsibilities, desires, just like you. Cut yourself--and everyone else--some slack.

What's the point here? There are several. Remember...

· Every family is different, so take ideas from other families, but do NOT compare your decisions against those made by other families. Do what’s best for your family.
· What you can give today may not be the same as what you can give in the future. Revisit your role in the process frequently.
· Review your priorities often; they will change with changing circumstances. How other families care may not be what you’re prepared to give or capable of giving. Recognize this, listen to advice, but remember that your situation is unique.

Think about the specifics of your care situation, the people involved, the finances available, the housing resources available, the relationships. Have you heard of any other caregiving circumstance exactly like yours? Do you listen to advice, but rework it to fit your own circumstances?

Once you’ve decided on what’s best for your family and for you, let go of the anxiety and get on with the doing. Do what you can. It will be enough.

No comments:

Post a Comment