Did you have a great Thanksgiving Holiday or do you find yourself totally exhausted from all the preparations and clean-up and dreading (at least) four more weeks of the same? If you can see something of your experience in that description then you may be a caregiver who has not followed my “prime directive” for caregivers: You will always take better care of others if you are taking care of the caregiver first! I have said it somewhat differently on numerous occasions, but those charged with taking care of an older loved one along with everyone else in their orbit also need to care for themselves. Don’t burn the proverbial candle at both ends.
So you agree in concept. It seems easy to say, but how does a caregiver start taking better care of her or himself? Here are three simple guides that you may find helpful in getting through the rest of the holidays. I think you actually will find that you better enjoy the opportunities for family and friends when you are in better shape yourself.
1. Delegate! Recognize that when ten people (or more) gather at your house to dine for the holidays that there will be a lot of food to prepare. Don’t go it alone. Request the two vegetable dishes from two of the guests, the rolls from another and the dessert from someone else. You may reserve the special dish that only you do for yourself, but share the opportunity to prepare the feast. And keep sharing after the meal. Those who cannot cook will clean! If you find yourself alone in the kitchen with a sink full of dishes after dinner, you did not delegate.
2. Designate! Set up a schedule with “rest stops” for your days leading up to and including the day of the event. Set aside time for yourself just as you would set aside a break from a long drive in order to get out of the car and stretch your legs. Get out of the house for a nice walk in the crisp air or sneak away to your room with a magazine or book.
3. Disengage! Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. It is easy to set the bar way too high by thinking that “if mom or dad could do all of the work,” then so should you. And that goes for recipes also. Be prepared to enjoy the meal in which everyone has a hand in preparing. In fact, it may even taste a bit better if you did not prepare all of the meal. (Refer to rule #1 above.)
Enjoy the rest of our holiday season, and remember to take care of the caregiver.
Charlotte Bishop is a Geriatric Care Manager and founder of Creative Case Management, certified professionals who are geriatric advocates, resources, counselors and friends to older adults and their families in metropolitan Chicago. Please email your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.