I Stopped "Shoulding" on Myself As A Caregiver and Made A Decision
Updated: May 17
If you are a family caregiver, you likely know what I am talking about. You should have put your mother in the car differently. You should have made a more nutritious meal for your family. You should have spoken up at the doctor's appointment about your father's driving. You should have worked out today. I start to do this so much sometimes I lose the ability to think clearly. I get so lost in what I should be doing I can't take action on what I can do.
For me, most recently, it is was, "you should take more than two weeks off work to care for your mother." I was struggling with this decision, almost spinning it over and over in my head.
As you may or may not know, my mother broke her heel at the beginning of March just when the Coronavirus was taking hold in the U.S. She was sent to rehab to manage her medical needs. At the rehab facility, she contracted the virus and ended up in the hospital for almost three weeks. Soon it will be time for her to come home, she still requires some care and is continuing to test positive. So now what? She is well enough to leave the hospital but not well enough to care for herself.
I do want to take time off of work to help, but financially, my time is limited. I have been my mom's caregiver for 10 years. I know you as caregivers understand this dilemma, but not everyone does. I had to sit down to really evaluate the situation to determine what I could manage emotionally, financially, and physically.
It had me wondering how much is enough?
How much do we give to our parents, and at what expense? What can I give, and at what cost?
These are the exact questions I have had to ask myself.
Early in my caregiving career, I made decisions based on my mother's needs. I played the martyr role at an Oscar level. This cost me many things in my own life. Don't get me wrong I would do it all over again. But, I had to figure out how to take the whole "village" into consideration for everyone's well being.
I heard this saying one time...
"When emotions are high, intelligence is low."
Boy did that hit home for me. When I am trying to make any kind of decision around caregiving, I have to slow down and think. I write down the facts first and let emotions come in after. Using this method allows me to lead with precise information and then take my family into consideration.
Here is a little glimpse into how I stopped "shoulding" on myself as a caregiver and made a decision.
My mother has been ill for over 10 years. I can confidently say over the last 10 years, I have taken off a day a week to do some sort of care. Sometimes more days sometimes less, but over 10 years one day, a workweek is fair. I can say financially, that this has cost me over $100,000.00. This is a fact.
Of course, caring for a family member goes beyond money. I would not have changed my decision to become a family caregiver. Yes, money is essential, but for me, what is more important, is the time. I am so thankful I have been able to give my mother so much time, but others need my time too. This is a fact.
So what do I do about the current situation? Should I take two weeks unpaid off of work?
I needed to look deeper.
To take two weeks off, I need to secure my job. I do have FMLA to cover my job, but I have to use my vacation time if I take a day off, FMLA or not. This means when I decide I want to take a vacation day, I have to save my hours for vacation, not appointments. I often make the decision of caregiving over vacation time. If I take two weeks off, all my vacation time will be gone. This is another fact.
We, as caregivers, make these types of trade-offs every day. They are not easy, but at what point do we consider our own needs?
I am past my victim mentality, and I now know I made a conscious decision to care for my mother. I could have let my mother's siblings manage her medical issues, or just let the chips fall where they may. Those were all options. I am choosing to take care of my mother, so my mother counts on my assistance, fact.
I am her daughter, and I should do everything for her. This is pure emotion.
If I don't take off time for her full recovery, I am not being the perfect daughter. Let's say it together! Emotion! These thoughts are not serving me at all. They will lead to resentment and burn out.
I have had to make some hard decisions over the years and continue to make difficult decisions every day. I am OK with that; dare I say good at making decisions. But, the choices we make as a caregiver never come easy or often without a price.
After analysis, I decided I will only take two weeks off of work and no more. More than two weeks will start to affect my family financially, and remove any chance of vacation this summer. If she needs more care, she can hire a caregiver or go to her sisters. While that may not be her preference, it is what works for everyone.
So then I took it one step further to show that "shoulding" all over myself when making decisions does not help. Getting clear on facts vs. emotions does help.
I will take a week or two to care for my mother, unpaid.
I will risk exposure to COVID 19 for her to be at her home. (I am a nurse trained in using PPE)
I will give her the best care I know how to give.
I will go back to work after my time off to earn money to care for my family.
I will go back to work after and accumulate vacation time.
I will ensure she has a caregiver for a few hours a day to help with appointments when I return to work, so I don't lose my vacation time.
I will continue to take intermittent FMLA to manage my mother's periodic care.
This all may sound harsh and not very loving, but I see it differently. I see these boundaries as a way to care for my mom for the long haul. I realize nothing is guaranteed, but that is where balance comes into play. I would never have survived as a caregiver for this long without some boundaries.
My goal is to love my mother until the end. I don't want to resent her or be angry because of the care I chose to give. That means my mom may be mad at me at times because she wants more from me, but it also means I can show up for everyone in my family, including myself.
Now it is your turn. Where are you going to stop "shoulding" on yourself and just decide? Either you are going to do something or not, but either way, have your own back and know you made the best decision by getting clear on the facts vs. your emotions.