Updated: Apr 12, 2022
I had the privilege of speaking with coach mentor Jennifer Richey on the topic of caregiving not long ago. She tells the moving story of her personal journey in caring for her father, and then her mother at the end of their lives. She stepped up to foster her nephew’s baby when no one else in the family could. Read more about Jennifer’s story on her blog Becoming Brave Coaching.
I love that Jennifer’s coaching niche focuses on caregiving, recognizing that each day brings challenges in the life of caregivers. Messiness, uncertainty, unpredictability and even chaos, just comes with the territory.
Of course there are rewards as well as challenges when it comes to caregiving, as I discussed with coach mentor Rae Tsai on her podcast about Caring for Elderly Parents
You get to choose
Caregiving seems noble and it is. Because it’s a full-on job that involves sacrifice. And it’s usually underappreciated or even thankless. Some of us choose it because that’s just who we are. But it’s also okay to meet yourself where you are.
Some of us have chosen to be hands-on caregivers for our loved ones in their home, others have chosen to move their parents into their home and yet others visit loved ones in a nursing home. Different cultures choose to judge certain approaches to caregiving as being better than others, but the reality is that each family member and family get to choose their own approach.
I’m reminded a bit of choosing between childcare options when I was starting my own family. At the time, I felt like there was so much judgment around my not being a stay-at-home mom. Now I realize that I was judging myself, while also (accurately) acknowledging that I would have been a terrible full-time mom.
Choosing the best elder care approach comes down to each family member being willing to honestly consider and share their own preferences for commitment in terms of time, money, fairness and even interpersonal dynamics. Perhaps even more important is the ability to openly communicate and adapt in the face of changes and uncertainty.
Caregiving from a distance
As travel has become more difficult during pandemic times, many of us are missing family, especially elderly loved ones. Recognize that it’s perfectly normal to have feelings like sadness and grief about their health declining. Of course we always want to see our loved ones thrive and be happy, but the reality is that they are on their own journey. And we can neither be responsible for, nor control what happens to them.
We are the medicine
It’s also perfectly normal to feel guilt, doubt, frustration, defensiveness, and even shame, when you see them struggling or hear their complaints. But those feelings are not necessarily a call to action. In fact, it is good to acknowledge that those feelings may sometimes be useful in an actual emergency when short-term rescue is actually warranted.
Aging is not a crisis
The thing is that aging is not a crisis, but merely a series of losses to be managed. There may be a sudden loss of mobility from an injury, or it may happen more gradually with arthritis. Losses in hearing or vision can be subtle or obvious.. Our only job is to support and respect our loved ones and their choices in how to cope with these losses.
I won’t say it’s been easy for me to accept that my help or advice will be rejected, or to have my careful plans for support be overthrown. In many ways, it feels like the parent-child relationship has reversed. So while I’ve definitely had my share of frustrating moments, I’ve learned to come to terms with, and even to be grateful for these experiences.
My loved ones continue to teach me. How to be present as the adult in the room. How to love unconditionally. I’m learning that it’s okay to look at the whole picture, to accept and forgive myself for my own limitations and to decide what my boundaries are. Because despite our imperfections, we are the medicine.
Jennifer Richey is a certified life coach specializing in caregiving. Check out her blog
Check out Dr Em’s interview with certified life coach Rae Tsai