Whether you are just entering the caregiving arena or are a seasoned veteran of caring for your aging parents, this four point check up is a good way to prevent or course correct the inherent tendency for all of us to go too far, take on too much and get zero gratitude for our efforts. We can adopt a better game plan that delivers our compassion, loyalty, best efforts without self-destructing.
But remember, none of the four coping strategies listed below are one and done. They are “habit-dependent” to activate and sustain, meaning you have put them into motion, expect blow back, be absolutely clear why are essential to your well being, stay the course and expect neither a thank you or a hug. Simple? No. Effective. Yes.
- True capacity While it seems obvious that the demands of caring for an aging parent exceed the capacity of any one person, caregivers routinely fail to appreciate or accept this capacity mismatch. Their insistence on going it alone with unrealistic and self-defeating goals always ends poorly for everyone. So, knowing and accepting true capacity is an essential coping skill to resist the myth of unlimited capacity.
- Limits of control The complicated and exhaustive demands of caring for an aging parent are both humbling and informative. Despite their penchant for taking pride in making things happen, caregivers soon realize they control far less then they think they do. So like true capacity, knowing and accepting limits of what you control is an essential coping skill to resist magical thinking about your “super-human” role in outcomes.
- Recalibrating expectations Faced with limited capacity and reduced control, caregivers need to recalibrate expectations about responsibilities and outcomes. This new recalibration will almost always be in direct conflict with the expectations of families who assume all caregivers have unlimited capacity and broad control over literally everything. Knowing and defending realistic expectations proves to be yet another essential coping skill for holding the line against the punitive expenctions of family members.
- Personal boundaries. Caregivers are assumed to be the default manager of everything and attempts to rein in this mythical role and establish clear boundaries almost always triggers pushback and hostility. But this turns out to be an acceptable price to pay for setting up early, realistic and healthy personal boundaries compared to quietly becoming a “martyr of the impossible.” Despite the disruption, establishing and defending personal boundaries is an essential coping skill only you can establish and protect.