Expectations: How caregivers can manage them around the holidays

They follow us through every day experiences, they go to work with us, they help write our emails, and they even come and sit at family dinners: expectations. Yes, those little beliefs of what should happen or continue to happen shape how we perceive and live our lives. All of us are conditioned to have an assortment of rules that we live by, usually unspoken, usually imparted to us by the families we grew up in. Thou shalt always send thy brother a birthday card. Especially around the holidays, these expectations or rules that we live by can often be the source of disappointment and frustration and can steal the peace from “the most wonderful time of the year”. As caregivers, one of the most important ways to manage stress well is to manage your expectations well.

If we were to ask you to list all of your expectations of yourself as a caregiver, or what you hope happens this holiday season, you might be surprised by how many ideas come out of the woodwork. It might include items like:

  • Thou shalt serve 5 sides including real hand-mashed potatoes at the holiday meal
  • Thou shalt iron your 86-year old-mother’s sheets and deliver them to her apartment
  • Thou shalt send holiday cards to all 200 of your closest friends and family
  • Thou shalt take off work for every appointment for your aging father
  • Thou shalt bake 500 cookies for your child/grandchildren’s fundraiser
  • Thou shalt not put thy aging parents in a nursing home
  • Thou shalt consult your family members’ Amazon wish lists and buy the perfect gift
  • Thou shalt manage thy parents’ 12 medications and never make a mistake

Is it any wonder that we are tired and stressed? We owe ourselves a break and a modicum of grace. As we are living longer and longer we are also spending a longer percentage of our lives caring for children, careers, and aging parents. A great many things demand our attention. We often must grant ourselves permission to address the holidays and the role of caregiving like a marathon rather than a sprint race. Here are a few tips to help caregivers manage their expectations and survive the holidays.  

1. You are Allowed to Ask for Help: One the most damaging expectations is when caregivers think they should shoulder their responsibilities completely on their own. The extended isolation, physical, and emotional demands can really take a toll on the body and the mind. Allow yourself breaks, time away from the situation, and help from home care agencies, family, and friends.   

2. You are Allowed to Feel What You Feel: So many times we can have a thought of frustration or anger toward a parent when they are being stubborn, demanding too much, or resisting care. Later guilt can drain our energy reserves. It’s okay and normal to have a wide range of emotions when engaged in eldercare. They are all a part of the process.

3. You are Allowed to Call the Professionals Before an Emergency: It’s natural that we try and fix our sink before we call the plumber, we lay our traps before we call the exterminator, and we climb up on the house before calling a professional roofer. When it comes to eldercare the strategy of waiting to call until there is an emergency can cost more time, money, and stress. Planning in advance with a Geriatric Care Manager gives families the resources they need to make the best and most cost effective decisions.

4. You are Allowed to Make New Traditions: Our ability to adapt is one of the most important indicators of our success and ability to manage stress. Yes, we may have an extensive list of things we feel we need to do to re-create the holidays from our childhood that we remember so fondly, but the truth is every year is so different from the one before. We are allowed to adapt to our new situations and caregiving responsibilities. We are allowed to do less and have that be enough.

5. You are Allowed to Draw Boundaries: Regardless of the quality of the relationship, more often than not, adult children have a fierce sense of responsibility for their aging parents. Many are making the decision to move an aging parent into their home, pay and manage their bills, set up their medications, go to appointments, do their grocery shopping and make their meals. While this is an extraordinary gesture, it is not the only way. It is okay to draw boundaries around your life and family and offer help in other forms such as researching care options or housing.  

If you are a family caregiver this holiday season, it may feel like you are running around taking care of everyone else. Remember, you must take good care of yourself so you can take good care of others. Give us a call and we’re happy to help you manage the work load, make informed decisions, and find a sustainable way forward. 800.628.7649. More information about our professional RN and MSW Care Management and In-Home Care is online at http://www.soundoptions.com/services

Published on December 22, 2014.