This blog was originally posted on the “Light Of Gray” in 2014.
These days, I am reading the powerful Stephen Covey classic “The Seven Habits Of Highly Effective People.” The principles outlined make so much sense to me, I feel as if everyone else probably knows them already. But in reality, few embrace proaction and effective living. This knowledge comes, in part, from my membership in the caregiver community.
Family caregivers are some of the nicest, most sincere, hard-working and generous souls on the planet. They are also some of the least healthy, most angry and stressed out people who draw breath. I am often frustrated by the things they say and do, because they are quite clearly destroying themselves. Too many of them die young. Many more injure themselves permanently and wind up needing care (too often without the necessary resources or plans in place to enable their own adequate care).
To drive the point home, I offer the Seven Habits of Doomed Caregivers:
1) Always do exactly what your loved one asks as soon as they ask no matter how unreasonable it might seem. After all, they are your (fill in the blank: mother, father, grandparent, etc.) and they always knew best (at least once upon a time).
2) Do everything yourself. No one else cares enough and nobody can do it all as well as you can, right?
3) Never take a day off. You’re strong. You can handle it. Your loved one can’t go on like this forever, can they? Maybe it just seems like forever.
4) Never ask for help. People will only let you down. If you ask and they say “no,” it will only make things more awkward. If they say “yes,” they won’t do what they promise. Or they’ll make you sorry you asked.
5) Don’t see your doctors. It’s hard enough getting your loved one to their doctors, so you don’t have to go for your own visits. Who has the time? You’ll be fine. Until you aren’t.
6) Don’t vent. People will think you’re crazy. Or weak. Or exaggerating. So hold it in. Until you can’t and explode.
7) Give up doing everything you enjoy in order to spend the maximum amount of time with your loved one and to save as much money as you can. Life is short but seems much longer when you don’t have any fun, ever.
I see people making these terrible decisions all the time. And there’s no pay off, no good reason for it. They usually have options; they just choose the wrong ones out of some misguided idea that the old rules somehow still apply. THEY DON’T.
Once a loved-one becomes ill and you are in charge, TAKE CHARGE. If you are caregiving a parent, once you start paying their bills and taking responsibility for your parent’s life, you must also have AUTHORITY. If mom or dad make unreasonable demands, your life-long programming will compel you to comply. But you must learn to fight the impulse. Because what they think NOW is generally irrelevant. They are failing. They are frightened. They want control. But they are no longer capable. You need to take control. That’s not easy, but it’s essential, for their survival and yours. You are the adult now. You have the experience, strength and perspective to make the best decisions. They no longer do.
And if you need help, ask for help, hire professionals, and educate yourself as to the resources available.
Facing caregiving alone, following the seven habits outlined above, is a recipe for disaster. Please don’t succumb. Life is too short to be squandered on wreckless caregiving. Be more effective and proactive. Develop a team. You have the right to live your own life, on your own terms. It’s a shift you can make happen if you have the will. Use your strength wisely.