Column: November is National Family Caregiver Month
An estimated one in five Americans are a caregiver to someone who cannot care for themselves. It may be an aging parent, a child with special needs, a grandparent caring for a grandchild, or a chronically ill loved one and chances are, at some point in our lives, we have or will be a caregiver to someone.
From managing doctor’s appointments, bill paying, to personal daily care and all the other responsibilities that come with it, the commitment and sacrifice made by caregivers is understandably taxing. It can lead to dismissing their own self-care and mental and physical wellbeing. The seemingly endless and constant demands can feel overwhelming.
National Family Caregiver Month is celebrated each year in November to recognize and honor family caregivers. It offers an opportunity to raise awareness of caregiving issues, educate communities, and increase support for caregivers.
For children caring for a parent, the reversal of roles now can be especially hard to process for everyone. As the parent loses his/her independence and must rely on their child for daily activities they managed on their own for so long, feelings of loss, sadness, and even resentment may occur. Know that those feelings are normal and should be recognized and processed.
More than one in 10 parents, about a quarter of all caregivers, are caring for an adult family member due to health needs or disability, while also caring for children at home. They are referred to as the ‘sandwich’ generation, splitting time between parenting and caregiving for an aged or ill parent.
Mental Health America offers some guidance to navigate the role of a caregiver.
Prioritize getting and staying organized. Plan regular family meetings to talk about upcoming commitments, delegate tasks, and get everyone on the same page. It’s important to ask for help in order to not carry all the responsibilities and allow yourself a break.
Handling family conflict. At a time when families should band together to support each other and their loved ones, the stress can lead to intense emotions and disagreements. Be honest and direct about your feelings. Approach caregiving conversations with as much patience and grace as possible and let other family members know that their help is both wanted and needed. Try to be realistic about what help others can provide and be clear on your expectations from them (and ensure you understand their expectations).
Give yourself credit. Try not to be too hard on yourself, you’re in a challenging situation trying to balance all your responsibilities and it can be impossible to meet all needs of everyone all the time. Acknowledge all that you have done and know that if you’ve fallen short on some things here and there, following through on the big things is what matters.
Resources such as the Caregiver Action Network and National Alliance for Caregiving can be valuable for caregivers to offer connection and support.
Community Care Services wants everyone to know that when we take the time to invest in our mental health, we can focus on creating an inclusive world for caregivers and those with mental illness to thrive, together.
Susan Kozak has been a licensed social worker for the past 35 years and currently serves as the executive director of Community Care Services, a position she has held since 2011.