Get help when caring for elders, children simultaneously
As our parents (and grandparents) age, we may find ourselves caring for our elders at a time when our children are still young. That was my situation when my daughter was a toddler and my grandmother came to live with us as she recovered from surgery.
I loved my grandmother and wanted so much to help her recover. I thought that all she needed was someone to cook good meals, drive her to her doctor’s appointments, and take care of her bills and other paperwork. I can do that, I thought. These are things I do anyway. What’s one more person?
The challenge was that the job required more of me than I anticipated. My grandmother got sicker, and being a new mother was more demanding than I expected. Yet I felt a singular sense of responsibility and tried to do everything myself. When someone offered help, I usually declined, thinking that caring for my grandmother and my child was my responsibility.
You can imagine the results: fatigue, guilt, resentment. I felt ill-equipped, defeated, and flat out exhausted. Trying to do everything by myself was a huge mistake. As I look back, I clearly see the false beliefs under which I was operating. Perhaps they sound familiar to you:
False Belief: My grandmother took care of me as a child, so it’s my sole responsibility to take care of her. And taking care of her means I should be the one providing what she needs.
Truth: Caring for another doesn’t mean we need to do it all alone. Getting help is caring and can be the most loving thing we do for our family and for ourselves. Getting help doesn’t mean that we give up our responsibility or that we don’t love our elders. To the contrary, recognizing our limitations and seeking resources so that our loved ones receive the best care possible is a wise and loving thing to do.
False Belief: Asking for help means I’m weak. If my friend can take care of three toddlers and her grandfather and keep a clean house, I should be able to also.
Truth: Comparing ourselves to others usually results in unrealistic expectations. Every parent, every child, every household is different. It’s okay, and even necessary at times, to accept help. Getting help puts you in a better position to care for your children, your elder, and yourself.
False Belief: Help is too expensive. Getting help will cost me a fortune. I can provide the care myself and save money.
Truth: Some caretaker services can be pricey. But others are free or low-cost or charge based on your income. (See resource list.) Friends and family members can also be a source of support. Take them up on their offers to provide meals or companionship so that you can have time to recharge.
If you’re caring for, or anticipate caring for, an aged family member while also parenting your own children, please follow my advice: Get help when you need it.
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you’re not able to take care of others,” says Vickie Orcutt, manager of In-Home Care and Caregiver Services for Family Eldercare in Georgetown. Vickie reminds us of this simple yet often forgotten principle. So take care of yourself as you care for others by getting help when you need it.
AARP Senior Care Resources