One of the difficulties of this transition is striking some balance between taking care of mom and taking care of myself. Boundaries are another word I’ve heard for it. And that makes a lot of sense. You could easily fall into doing and giving and sacrificing more, more, more…till there is not much more of you to give, or not much of a recognizable you at all. I watched my aunt struggle with that as she cared for my grandmother.
One of the earliest and most difficult decisions we made was to put mom into assisted living and nursing care. It was really tough (and the subject for another post.) We knew we could not adequately care for her. It was the right decision, and I don’t regret it.
Yet, that’s only one thing off our minds (a big one, I recognize, but still only one.) There are so many other pieces of caring for mom physically, emotionally, and mentally, that it could still be overwhelming. And it was for a long time. I’d wake up at 4AM panicking or worse yet obsessing about something I needed to do. I’d feel enormous guilt that I was spending time doing something for just me or spending time with friends or family…because that was time I should be spending with mom. I learned much later that the time I spent focusing on me, or with friends and family, was what helped me be BETTER ABLE to care for mom.
So I put some structure around it.
I can be a workaholic because I love what I do. And it can be a great escape because I know how to do my job. I don’t always know how to help my mom. So rule #1 is to be more self-aware of my tendencies to dive into projects I know how to do in an effort to avoid spending time figuring out what I don’t know how to do.
That was helpful. But I still felt guilty because there is a lot I don’t know how to do. Rule #2 is to talk openly and honestly about my limitations, my concerns, my fears, and my needs. Something amazing happened when I started to do this…people helped me. They gave me advice. They connected me with people they knew who could help me. They pointed me to resources on the web and elsewhere. They listened. They offered me things I never even thought to ask for. They found ways to support me.
And all of this was helpful but it still didn’t stop me from waking up at 4AM worrying. These two rules didn’t provide guidance for how or what I should be doing. That, I have realized is a personal decision. Many people will have suggestions. I have to decide what to do, how to do it, when to do it, and when not to do it.
My rule #3 is commit to one hour a day and one half-day per week to spend completely devoted to mom. Sometimes it is more. I try hard to never make it less. And in this time I think about her, I worry about her, I talk to her on the phone, I shop for her, I pay her bills, I visit her, I sing songs with her, I play games with her, I try to understand her Medicare statements, I go to doctor’s appointments. I decide what I need to do to help her right now, I do it, then I focus on the other things that need to be taken care of in my life. And when I wake up at 4AM, I tell myself, this isn’t part of the hour, I make a note of what’s on my mind so I can worry about it later, and I go back to bed.
Rule #4 is forgive yourself when you break one of the other rules. It happens. Enough said.