Caregiving: Recognizing the Joys Beyond the Challenges

The challenges that life presents us with can also provide tremendous opportunities for growth. One of the best examples of how challenges can yield tremendous rewards is being a caregiver to a chronically ill child or a grandparent who needs extra care.

The Trees… and the Forest
Granted, the job isn’t always easy. Taking care of a family member is filled with details, like medication schedules which, if left unnoticed can have major negative implications. And regardless of how other household members are involved, or not involved, on a day-to-day basis, caregiving is a shared experience because caregiving affects so many aspects of daily life, including finances, meal-planning, household chores, and vacations, to name but a few.

If you are caregiver, one thing you know for sure is that helping is all about sweating the small stuff – every last detail. And no family member is left untouched.

Depending on the level of care required, and its impact on daily life, it is easy to get caught up in the process of handling the details and not acknowledge the joys. While those daily details are critical, it is a natural response to keep their focus on the trees and forget that all of these trees make up a beautiful forest. But it is in taking the bird’s eye view that the real meaning of being a caregiver begins to take shape.

But are you also staying focused on the joy? There are few things more gratifying in life than making a difference in someone else’s life, and helping a loved one in need provides that opportunity every day.

Here are some ways to help you push the blessing button on those days when the details feel overwhelming.

Don’t give in to the positive thinking police.
Just because children don’t appear to be worried, doesn’t mean that they aren’t. Children learn to stay positive out of fear that they will cause their parents additional worry (just as their parents are). Older adults may also hold back on their fears and concerns out of fear that they are already disrupting the household. Furthermore, household members needing additional care may also interpret your own insistence in maintaining a positive attitude as a signal that they aren’t supposed to express their own feelings.

Start the conversation by simply asking how he or she is feeling, along with reassurance that you want to hear whatever it is they want to tell you, even the ‘scary stuff.’ And regardless of our age, we can all use a few extra hugs and reassuring words.

Recognize the moments of joy that each day brings.
True happiness doesn’t hit like a lightning bolt or a million-dollar lottery jackpot. Life is full of smaller pleasures, like enjoying beautiful weather, checking in with someone you care about, or taking time to do something you enjoy. Being conscious of life’s little joys can take you a long way toward feeling happier.

Do you find yourself constantly putting a negative spin on life and then reminding yourself how hard life is? Take action to change your self-talk by countering the negatives with positive examples of the joy of making sure your loved one is having his/her needs met. And pat yourself on the back for stepping up to the plate and meeting the challenge.

You might even want to take time to count your blessings – literally.
Take time to keep a list of all the things in your life that are going well – those little and big moments that make you smile and give you courage. You might even write about all of the positive aspects of your life in a journal. This will help to get you focused on the positive, on a regular basis, and away from the negative column.

When those low moments threaten to overcome you, you can pull out your list and review it to help you get back on a positive track. If you have a chronically-ill child, you might work on this together. And you might want to encourage an older person to create a happy memory book.

Don’t get stuck in illness and disability.
Think – and act – out of the belief that we are all multi-faceted human beings, with a mind, a body, and a spirit. Remember that not everything is a medical issue. Chronically-ill children, and older adults, are human beings, not medical conditions, and communications don’t all have to revolve around illness.

Find a common ground that focuses on current strengths, shared experiences and interests, and then help your loved one to create a healthier self-image by finding ways that they can share in chores and other activities in your household. Don’t forget to build in some fun that all family members can participate in.

Take care of yourself.
Families facing chronic illness are constantly at risk for stress, and unacknowledged stress interferes with communications. Make sure your own needs are being met. Take care of your own physical well-being. Get a break once in awhile. And find a safe place to talk about how you are feeling, even the ‘bad stuff.’.

Find a supportive friend or objective family member outside of your household who can give you an opportunity to release the pressure without judging you. Remember that your loved one, and your other household members, may need an opportunity to do some ventilating of their own.

And adopt a compassion mindset.
Parenting a child with a chronic condition or caring for an older adult can be challenging. Recognize and accept your own limitations and the limitations of others. Be patient. Forgive yourself for those times when you aren’t as perfect and selfless as you would like to be, and forgive your loved one for not being as receptive or grateful as you would like them to be. And take a moment to be thankful for the opportunity to experience all of life, the disappointments, the lessons, and the joy.