Person to Person: Caregiving is a delicate balancing act

By Judi Light Hopson, Emma H. Hopson and Ted Hagen, Tribune News Service on

Published in Lifestyles

Are you juggling work and taking care of your elderly parents? Maybe on top of this, you're also raising kids or dealing with a spouse who is ill.

Your mind is on other people's needs 24 hours a day.

In the midst of this stress, you'd like to take care of yourself. But, the problem is there's no time for your own needs. As a caregiver, you're suffering from personal neglect.

A friend of ours described it this way: "While I'm figuring out if mom needs groceries, I'll be trying to plan a sales meeting. At the same time, my brain is telling me my spouse has a doctor's appointment this week. He is a cancer patient. My aerobics class is a thing of the past. My weight and blood pressure are up."

One woman we know told us this: "I used to keep a to-do list on my bedside table. I would wake up in the middle of the night thinking of a caregiving task I'd forgotten. After about three years of this, I finally figured out what I'd truly forgotten. I'd forgotten myself."

Pushing your own needs away, so you can struggle to shop, drive, cook, plan, and worry for someone else will backfire. You'll come to the end of your own coping mechanisms.

Caregiving can build relationships or destroy them. After all, one human can only do so much. Stretching yourself to the breaking point becomes quiet, slow torture if you can't balance the responsibility.

Here are some tips that can help:


— Tell yourself the truth. This helps you define options. For example, maybe you have to work overtime this weekend. Your mother will be lonely sitting at home. Could your niece drop in for a visit and take her some lunch?

— Plan ahead constantly. Pencil in quiet time for yourself, a small amount of exercise every day, and one "reward" for yourself every week. This reward might be a novel you've been wanting to read or a nice Italian meal you'll order for delivery.

— Build a reliable emotional support system. There's no substitute for caring people who will help fix your problems. For example, text your closest friends a couple of times a day just to chat and unwind. Or ask your cousin to help you find a good car repair person. Make sure you find a good doctor or medical clinic for yourself, too.

— Look for every time-saving technique you can find. Utilize delivery options from local stores or online providers. Have your groceries and your elderly parents' groceries delivered. Order basic household items online, so you can save driving time every week. And, could you pay someone to cut your hair and your mother's hair in the same visit?

"When I took my sister and my aunt for chemotherapy last year, I got very angry," says a friend of ours we'll call Nick. "I started resenting other family members for not helping. Finally, I started asking family members to make a few calls to my sister and my aunt. I told my relatives that they needed cheering up and they surely could do that."

Nick got cooperation in that regard. His family members started to get involved. Some wanted to know the real problems and how they could help.

"People will chip in time, money, and other resources if you encourage them to get involved," says Nick. "Don't back yourself into a hero's corner on caregiving. Let people know that a little help goes a long way."

(c)2020 Person to Person Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC