Life Beyond Your Caregiving Role
“I matter. My life matters. My feelings matter. I am doing powerful, important work for my loved one — but I still matter.” — Cindy Laverty
We all want to feel like we have a purpose in life. Some caregivers find their purpose in caregiving, but many do not. Instead, many caregivers accept the caregiver role out of a sense of duty, loyalty and love. Caregiving is not what brings excitement to their lives.
Life as a caregiver can be mundane and monotonous. It can feel as if we are on auto-pilot. It’s one of life’s little indignations: a set daily routine is important for our older loved ones — especially those with dementia — but that same routine takes a huge toll on the caregiver’s emotional and mental health.
Now add the pandemic. Everything we do has to be thought through and planned. Sameness and routine are what caregivers have always experienced — pandemic or no pandemic. It has always been harder to be spontaneous and break routine when you have other people's needs and routines to consider.
Cindy Laverty, author of "Caregiving: Eldercare Made Clear and Simple," offers six steps to help bring purpose and meaning back into a caregiver’s life.
1. Acknowledge and separate your purposes
Caregivers have two primary purposes: self-care and caring for an older loved one. We need to understand the differences between our purpose as a caregiver and our life’s purpose. Laverty points out, “When it comes to caregiving, your role is not to give up your life to fix everything that is wrong in your loved one's life. It's to help them live in as much dignity and grace as possible, given the situation.”
2. Make a plan
A care plan lays out what is needed to manage the health and well-being of an individual. Although every care plan will look different for every family, there are some basic steps that should be included:
- Physical health and medications
- Legal documents
- Finances, including medical and life insurance policies
- Home safety
- Day-to-day living (meals, bathing, dressing, mobility, etc.)
3. Set boundaries
Know what your physical and emotional limits are. Compile a list of what you can and cannot do, what you are willing and unwilling to do, and what you have time for. Share that list with your loved one, your support team and with your loved one’s medical team. It’s not selfish. As Laverty says, “Most of us were never taught how to set boundaries.”
4. Set goals
Goals need to be realistic and must fit into your life without major disruption. They need to be specific and measurable. Wanting to be more patient with your loved one is not specific, but taking a deep breath and counting to 10 before reacting is a more specific goal.
Develop an actionable plan to obtain your goal. Instead of saying to yourself, “I don’t want to be stuck in this house all day taking care of Mom,” arrange for someone from your support team to care for your mother every other Sunday afternoon. Don’t forget to reward yourself after you’ve achieved one of your goals. You deserve it.
5. Scare yourself
Laverty points out, “We are conditioned to stay stuck in our spot because going out of it is just too scary." If you feel that your life purpose is being overshadowed by your caregiving responsibilities, and that you simply cannot move forward with your life because you’re a caregiver, ask yourself if you have just learned to accept your caregiver position because you are afraid to move forward. It might scare you to say, “I matter too.” Go ahead, scare yourself!
6. Discover your higher endeavor
To re-ignite your own passions, Laverty suggests asking yourself, “How do I find adventure in the day-to-day drudgery?” It’s easy to lose yourself in your caregiving role. Let caregiving be an opportunity to learn more about yourself and what excites you. Let it be a launch pad to re-elevate your life and interests above and beyond caregiving.
Remind yourself that caregiving is not your whole life. You are your own person separate from the person you are caring for. You have a right to your own ambitions and deserve to have your needs met. Finding a balance between caring for a loved one and respecting and loving yourself is a fundamental part of being a caregiver.
Stay well, stay healthy, stay connected,