Nothing feels as good as helping others when they are struggling. We love caring for loved ones: aging parents, sick or struggling kids, family members going thru a hard time, our beloved pets.....it goes on and on. However, many caregivers forget to care for THEMSELVES. I see this in my practice ALL THE TIME. My clients pour everything into their loved ones, going above and beyond to help them, forgetting that THEY NEED CARE TOO.
My clients who are parenting struggle to meet EVERY ONE OF THE NEEDS of their kids: getting them to games, practices, lessons, school functions, homework, church, therapies of every kind, friends' houses, shopping, etc etc. On top of this, they often worry that they aren't doing a GOOD ENOUGH JOB. I have to help them look at their role as parent with more balance and compassion. YES, it's crucial to be a good parent! We want to be patient, supportive, consistent, loving.....of course we do. But there is only so much we can GIVE without being exhausted, frazzled and even resentful. Parents are people too and need time see to their own needs. They need time off, time to rest, time with friends and/or their PARTNERS, time to not 'be on'. Therapy helps them see this!
Clients seeing to their aging parents have very similar issues: they LOVE their aging parents and want to go above and beyond helping them with doctors, hospitals, care-givers, housekeeping, medicine management, listening, visiting, helping with food, etc., but, again, there is only so much time in our lives. Some clients I see have kids, aging parents AND are working. These folks are so tired they fall sick, fall prey to substance abuse, totally ignore their own needs.
Same holds true for folks caring for aging and/or sick pets. Our pets can seem particularly vulnerable and we want to make sure they have the best (longest) lives possible. This can mean spending money we don't have for 'Doggie Day Care' or running home to care for them during our work day. Pet-parents can really suffer too.
So what do CAREGIVERS need: Here is a partial list, largely developed through working with my tired, struggling clients:
~ Rest (consistent, non-in-demand time off
~ Sleep (at least 6/7 hours per night....uninterupted
~ Decent food (not necessarily made 'from scratch' but not a steady diet of fast food
~ Support from caring friends, family, professionals (including therapy_
~ Fun: can be anything that takes your mind off of your demands (movies, dinners out with happy friends, hiking/riding bikes/swimming...whatever floats your boat)
~ Quiet time/Prayer/Meditation: Caregivers neglect their own inner selves because they are either too busy to schedule quiet time OR are too angry/resentful/conflicted to look inside. Many clients put their quiet time ON THEIR calendars at my suggestion. It becomes 'important' that way, as it certainly is.
~ Boundary Setting: It's hard to say no to loved ones in need. No question about it. But everyone has the right to say 'no', or 'I can do this but not that', or 'who else can help with this' or 'will my child really suffer if he/she doesn't make it to EVERY event?' Setting boundaries is one of the scariest tasks my clients learn and one of the most valuable.
Flight attendants tell us to place the oxygen mask on OURSELVES before we place them on our kids. Wise advise for our everyday lives. IF we aren't seeing to our OWN needs, how can we truly care for others!