I am proud to have Nancy D. O’Reilly ,of Women Connect 4 Good, contribute her expertise to The Imperfect Caregiver. Seeking family help is difficult for caregivers who often feel powerless when asking.
How to Claim Your Power: Seek Family Help in Caring for Your Loved-One
Nancy D. O’Reilly, Psy.D.
Women are born to be caregivers. My least favorite aspect of our society is the way it continues to assign women the task of being the primary caregivers for life. As a result, we put ourselves last on our priority list and feel guilty when we take time out for ourselves—if we take time out for ourselves. So after we take leave to birth and raise our children and accept lower wages for our lesser business role, now we provide over 60 percent of caregiving services for parents or other loved-ones in their elder years.
Caregiver.org reports that women provide from $148 billion to $188 billion annually in informal caregiving. In fact, we are the backbone of caregiving. While it can be empowering to learn to juggle your priorities, responsibilities and emotions so you can carve out some time for yourself and be in control of your life, it can be overwhelming without cooperation from your family. The most empowering thing you can do for yourself is use your considerable communication and organization skills to enlist the aid of your family members to accept their responsibility for caregiving when a parent is involved.
I know that’s not as easy as it sounds. You may have a lifetime of conflicts with brothers and sisters to overcome to get their cooperation. But you are not children any more and you have skills you’ve built up through adulthood and career building that you can use to accomplish this task and claim your power. The first thing you must establish is open communication.
When my sister and I talked about how to handle our mother’s passing, I said I would do whatever was needed. My sister was so relieved to hear me commit to planning a memorial service and have family all gather and celebrate her life. We have a very large family spread out from coast to coast. This is no small task. My sister was so comforted to know that she would not have to face this alone. Our mother lives closer to my sister than to me, making it more convenient for my sister to have more day-to-day involvement. But by talking openly about my commitment to help plan mom’s future memorial my sister knows that I love her and support her. The most important thing is that you must not take this loving support for granted. A hand-written note and greeting card thoughtfully selected is very special among the abbreviated sentiments of texting and e-mail. Take the time to share your love. And don’t be hesitant to ask for it also.
Communication goes both ways. It is your most powerful tool and perhaps the most difficult to use with family members. Try to focus on the goal: providing quality care for your loved one. It will help you keep your emotions in check and allow you to work through problems more objectively. Be sure to thank your family for all they have done and/or are doing, even if you have to be creative to think of something. Use gratitude as a positive preface for telling them what you need. Do not expect them to read your mind. People can be amazingly focused on their own problems when you need them the most. You have to speak clearly and with specific requests to get them to help.
The most critical thing you will need is time off. If none of your family can provide respite care and you are the primary caregiver, what about helping financially, so you can hire someone to sit in while you have some quiet time or pursue your passion? One woman I know actually said that she felt so overwhelmed, she wanted to run away. Of course, she didn’t, but when she let her feelings be known, she got the help she needed from other family members.
This brings me to another important point about the need for communication. There is nothing empowering about whining around the water cooler or to friends on the phone. If you want change, you have to speak to the people who can create that change. You may have to practice this method of empowering communication, but it’s a fairly simple formula and can be applied to almost any situation. Start the conversation with something like, “When you criticize my ideas, I feel like you don’t respect me. And that makes me angry and defensive.” Fill in the blank with your issue: When you X, I feel like Y and that makes me Z. The important point here is not to be accusatory. Never start the discussion with “You always XYZ!” That is always interpreted as direct confrontation and is guaranteed to stop communication in its tracks.
Of course the healthiest method of caring for your loved one is to share the work among the whole family. Team work is always easier and far more rewarding than going it alone. Think about other things in life: a team you played on as a kid where you all worked toward winning a championship, or being in a play or working on fundraising in a community organization. Whether you won or lost, met your goal or fell a little short, you felt a bond of sharing the load. This is the most empowering approach to caring for your loved one. Whether you are the primary caregiver or helping out now and then, talk about your family and how your loved one needs all of you. Make the others feel they are not alone. Share your appreciation, your praise and your responsibilities and you will be amazed at how relieved and empowered you will feel.
Find out more about how to “Claim Your Power” in my e-book on WomenConnect4Good.org. You can create the life you want by taking care of you and devoting your energies to healing yourself. That’s the path to gaining strength and living the vibrant, vital life you deserve.
As a clinical psychologist, philanthropist and founder of WomenSpeak.com and WomenConnect4Good Foundation, Nancy D. O’Reilly, PsyD, devotes her energies to helping women claim their power. Her lively, humorous and engaging presentations have educated and inspired audiences across the country. She authored the self-help book, Timeless Women Speak: Feeling Youthful At Any Age and is at work on a collection of essays, Empowered Women Change The World: 20 Thought Leaders Show You How.
A Nationally Certified Crisis Team Leader, she served in New York City after 9/11, in Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina and in Joplin, Missouri after the tornado. She has spent years helping people reclaim their power after weather disasters, fire, divorce, health crises and job loss.
Dr. Nancy received a Missourian Award in 2010; chairs a United Way Women’s Initiative; and participated in the 2011 United Nations Commission on the Status of Women. She serves on many boards including the Missouri State Committee of Psychologists Board of Directors.
- Online Resources Help Caregivers (clearwritingsolutions.com)
- Tuesday: Kiss a Caregiver Day (caregiving.com)
- Dementia and Driving: Sound Advice on Driving with Dementia (thehartford.com)
- Are you or someone you know a caregiver? (boomersurvive-thriveguide.typepad.com)
- Who Are Family Caregivers? (prattremodeling.com)
- 10 Tips for Family Caregivers: 10 Great Apps (caregiving.com)