How to Turn the Burden of Elder Care into a Gift

How to Turn the Burden of Elder Care into a Gift

You’ve got the call or you’ve made the call.  Your parents need your caregiving help. Of course, you want to be there for them.  But how can you care for them, and honour your own needs?  How can you enhance your relationship with your parents, not strain it?


The Weight of Caregiving on Retirees

Having people depend on you for care can affect your retirement success.  Some people delay retirement, given the additional financial burden of caregiving, and put their dreams on hold. Others retire earlier than planned, turning caregiving for a loved one into their full-time job, and giving up vacations and other pleasures in their lives.

Studies have shown that the heavy weight of caregiving is not the physical or financial burden, but the emotional strain.  Caregivers of loved ones can feel a myriad of emotions at any time, from appreciation and love, to guilt and resentment.  This paradox of feelings can create inner turmoil for the caregivers and add to our stress.


Growth Through Caregiving

Just like the grieving process, there is a 9-step growth cycle that caregivers of loved ones can experience. Through this process, you gain the gift of personal development and deeper relations with your elders.

As we move through these stages, described by Dr. Johnson founder of Retirement Options, we grow and develop personally.  When the need for care is first realized, we may feel sorry for our parents’ and their diminishing health.  Then, we take on heroic (and unsustainable) acts of caregiving to ‘fix’ the situation and bring it back to normal.  When the ‘fixing’ doesn’t work the way we wanted, we begin to question our usefulness, our help, our capabilities, intentions and more.  Some caregivers may feel angry and resent their caregiving responsibility.


“If we do not resolve our anger and resentment, we may move into depression, feeling stuck, helpless and hopeless.” 


We may feel the loss of giving up our social and leisure activities as the burden of caregiving takes its toll.  To move out of this caregiving low, we reach out for help.  Perhaps its community care programs, support groups, faith groups, counsellors or other assistance.  As we reach out, we may find other caregivers with whom we can share experiences and gain some encouragement to lighten our load.

Many caregivers of loved ones feel guilty about the care choices and approaches carried out or about their mixed feelings.  “Am I doing enough?”  Should I be feeling this way?”  When we can forgive ourselves for being human really, we can move on to acceptance and letting go.

“It is only through active and creative acceptance, that caregivers can emerge from the strain of care to find themselves refreshed and rejuvenated.”


What Can You Do?

How can you turn the burden of caregiving into an enriching, loving experience?  First, get informed.  Gain a good understanding of the physical needs and the emotional needs of your parents.  Discover what resources and care options are available in your community.

Second, line up your help.  Engage the resources you will need. Reach out to others who have cared for their parents and find support groups.  Understand your own needs, physical and emotional, and develop your boundaries. Find back-up support so that you can take a break, and continue with activities that are important to you.

Open your heart and mind and seize the opportunity to strengthen a healthy, positive and loving relationship with your parents. Let go of negative attitudes toward ageing.  Master the art of meaningful conversation.  Practice active listening.  Listen for the feelings, and intentions as well as the content.  Share your love.  Feel the gift.


Some Resources

AARP Caregiving: Care for Yourself                   Comfort Life: Caring for the Elderly

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