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A Good Enough Family Caregiver?

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goodenoughSo my professional label is a certified geriatric care manager, but it could as easily be caregiver support team member.  Almost invariably when I or one of our geriatric  care management professionals begins work with a new client, we really are working in support of the family network, not just the older parent or loved one.  And the dynamic often reminds me how caregiving to an older parent can be a lot like parenting to a new child, especially if it is the first time for the caregiver.  Then, I reflect on a book from 1988 by a child psychologist named Bruno Bettelheim who talked about being a “good enough parent,” and I try to offer similar rules for caregivers.

A lot of caregivers I encounter put themselves through a lot of stress, because they are following some artificially high standards for caregiving when they should work at just being a “good enough caregiver.”  Just as Bettelheim did not offer specific steps to raising perfect children, I am not going to offer specific steps to caregiving as much as some guidelines for being “good enough:”

  • Some caregivers set very high standards for what they will take on to help an older parent, but they also may have a job, a partner or children or a life; the caregiver does not have to be all things to all people, just good enough.
  • Some caregivers have what may appear to be a perfect peace with their parents, but a lot are trying at this later stage of life to make peace with mom or dad; a caregiver needs to remember that the peacemaking is a two way street, so just put forth a good enough effort.
  • Some caregivers seem to find it hard to ask for and accept help from others as they care for an older adult; a caregiver can be more effective as the coach of the team allowing the care managers to “carry the ball” and that also is good enough.
  • Some caregivers seem to see how their older parents are fairing as a direct reflection on their caregiving; an older loved one will be their own person, and a caregiver has to accept that they will have done good enough regardless.
  • Some caregivers interpret an older loved one’s actions as judgments of their caregiving when those actions may have little to do with the caregiver; an older mom’s stoicism may not be a rebuke to the caregiver as much as it is a way to deal with the loss she has faced after losing her spouse, and that has to be good enough for the caregiver.
  • Finally, some caregivers have role models that may come out of television drama where everyone is just perfect; but life is not scripted like a movie, and at the end of the day a caregiver gets to write her/his own closing song that will be good enough.

Charlotte Bishop is founder of Creative Care Management, certified geriatric care management professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago.  Please email your questions to ccbishop@creativecasemanagement.com.

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