Martha is married to Bill and has three kids 12, 15 and 18. The oldest is just leaving for college this year while the other two are in the throes of middle and high school. Heavy parenting years, right? Two weeks ago Martha’s mother had a major stroke and she has been getting treatment and will soon be coming home but incapacitated and needing a lot of care. Her father, Will, died just 2 years ago from Parkinson’s and her Mom had been care taking him for many years. Her Mom lives nearby in her own home. This is a huge change in Martha’s life as she is contacted by the other family members, two brothers living nearby, to take on this situation and care for Mom and Dad, because they believe Mom needs her daughter’s support and care. They are worried about Mom’s ability to work through this major change without a lot of personal care. Martha takes on this challenge without questioning that she’s the one to do it, lovingly and willingly. She moves Mom into her home rather than any other solution because she believes that will be easier on her Mom.
Her family felt like she made the decision on her own without consulting them, especially her husband, Dan. Martha just moves into tasks that have to be done. She enlists her brothers to clean out and sell the family home and Mom goes along with the plan because she is different and more dependent as a result of the stroke.
This case could be called a “Sandwich Caregiving Transition” when you have kids at home and you are caring for an elder in your home. Many of us choose to keep our elders in their own homes or a residential facility in order to provide more boundaries and additional support. It seems to be easier to manage for some women than having it all happening in their own home as Martha has done. Some women, like Martha, are happiest when they are giving care and taking it all on. But what else gets unbalanced in our lives when we focus so much on caregiving? What will Martha look like in 5 years as she takes on this load? From your help as I reached out to some of you, I’ve identified the key issues we are facing in these “caregiving transitions” are: Self-care, emotional boundaries & balance, ‘healthy family decision-making, finding affordable support and medical treatment, managing changes, and family beliefs and values. Just looking at this list helps us realize this transition is a major challenge to work with all these issues!!
When I say “caregiving” I am referring to either giving care to an elder or child in your home, or most of you that I have reached out to are giving care in your parent’s home. These tools and ideas that I present here can be applied to anyone giving care, especially Moms with young children or teens as well. The concept of a transition is important here, because when I talk about “transitions” I imply that you have made a decision to take this path and you are “riding the wave” of this process as best you can. If you feel you haven’t made a decision but have been thrown into this role, then you may not even be aware that you are in a “transition”. That feeling may create an unbalancing that you aren’t able to rebalance on your own. Depression, anger, resentment and major illness can result when a woman is not choosing and honoring herself in her decision to caregive. This difficulty in knowing how to choose or to honor yourself in a making a decision to caretake is the biggest issue I see in my clients and friends.
First, some foundations: A definition of TRANSITION: a movement, passage, or change from one position, state, stage, subject, concept, etc., to another; change. It is this awareness or “facing” of the transition that is crucial for your ability to move in it and with it to a good resolution instead of unraveling through the process. With support and tools for “riding this wave” you can even find that your transition can become a TRANSFORMATION for you.
SELF-CARE, EMOTIONAL BOUNDARIES AND BALANCE & FAMILY VALUES: How often do we as women feel like we make a decision based on what “the family wants” or what is morally right, based on our training to make sure we are taking care of the needs of those we love. Our role as Caretaker often leads us away from ourselves and our needs or prioritizes others’ needs above our own. And, we don’t have a good framework for how to meet our needs and those of others equally. Often, we are taught that it is “selfish” to put our needs above others. This belief unbalances us more. Men are taught to focus on their needs first in our culture, while women are taught to focus on others’ needs first. So, how we are raised and the values and beliefs set forth in our families are often the stronger determiner of how we handle these kinds of caregiving transitions.
Learning how to separate from our “family values” we grew up with, and setting forth what each of us as a woman needs to feel balanced in relationship is the work that leads us to healthy SELF-CARE and healthy BOUNDARIES & EMOTIONAL BALANCE. This is Personal Balance Coaching and I offer it in my practice to women at any age. From this awareness and work, you have the tools or a framework for what is best for you, or a tool for choosing how to caretake and under what conditions. It is also knowledge from which you can sit down with your family and make a healthy decision based on what is right for your family and your marital or primary relationship.
I am here to tell you that it is possible to make a decision to caretake your loved one and STILL honor yourself. Many women find this dynamic slowly (as several of you mentioned to me in your own way) but it is an ongoing process and takes regular self-reflection, (alone time, mindfulness, prayer) faith and support. As anything that is important and so necessary to our families and our purpose as women, learning how to caretake in a way that is honoring ourselves is paramount to our happiness and joy in our lives.