After first becoming a caregiver, one of the most difficult tasks is learning what to keep and let go. With caregiving, you acquired full responsibility for care, decision-making, finances, appointments, health monitoring, supplies, and, let’s not forget, entertainment for possibly someone who doesn’t want you telling them what to do. Yet, at the same time, you must find time to sleep, take care of your family, home, vehicles, belongings, and other obligations, and maybe work a full or part-time job. Right? Feels overwhelming.
God bless ya! You will survive, but you must learn to take life one day at a time. No, sometimes it’s one minute at a time. Furthermore, learn to let much of life roll off your back and cut yourself a lot of slack. Here’s how to get started learning to let go.
Getting Started with Basics
After the family meeting, where everyone got together and decided who would be responsible for what (if the family was sharing duties), you have a basic idea of the tasks before you. The first thing you must realize is that you cannot do them all. You are not superman or superwoman, and the world will not end if you stop sweeping under the bed or even making the bed! So it’s time to take a hard look at what is important to you – what has value either because it has meaning or it would cause harm if not done. Once you figure out what’s important or possibly harmful, the rest will fall into place, and decisions will be easier.
Essential or Non-Essential
Try sorting your list as follows, using these labels and definitions to make decisions:
Critical – Must be done (Essential) – i.e., something bad would happen if this were not done, such as someone would get hurt, sick, or there might be legal or financial consequences.
Necessary – Must be done (Essential) – i.e., required tasks indispensable to someone’s well-being or the care of the home. There may be some flexibility in the timing or method of completion, but someone must do them at some point.
Supportive – Not essential but should complete at some point. These items are maintenance items with longer timelines and provide greater flexibility in completion dates. (Should be added to the list at some point but not during times of crisis.)
Can do without – If truth be told, you can live without these. Nothing and no one will die, get sick, break down, lose its mind, or otherwise result in a negative consequence you can’t handle if you do away with these things. Therefore, these tasks you either eliminate or put far, far to the bottom of your list.
Also, as you decide under which list a task belongs, ask yourself some of the following questions.
- What would happen if I didn’t do this task?
- Is there anyone else who could do this for me?
- Could I afford to pay someone else to do this for me?
- Can this be combined with something else to make the two things easier together?
- Do I have to do the task as often as I was doing it, the way I was doing it? Is there a better way?
After going through all these questions, you have a good idea of what you need to do; therefore, you now have a task list. With a task list, you can create a care agreement.
Expectations About Living Arrangements and Overall Management
Suppose “Mom” wasn’t coming to leave with you, but you were going to live with Aunt Jane to be her caregiver? The same situation exists—Aunt Jane had a stroke. She has three children, and all three are her POAs, but none want to take care of her. You are a nurse, and they asked if you might be willing to come to take care of her? Before making up your mind about saying yes or no, you might want to find answers to the following questions.
- What is the level of care required? i.e., Do they need limited, partial, or total care? Or just companion assistance?
- Does the role include managing the home as well as providing care? For example, who is responsible for paying the bills, taking care of business transactions, managing house maintenance, vehicle maintenance, etc.?
- If you are responsible for bill payments, will you also be named a Durable Power of Attorney, or will you have to have a family member pay all the bills?
- Will you have any Medical Decision-Making Authority? Are you the only one, or is it shared?
- How much time do they expect you to be physically present with them? Are you on 24-hour call? How much freedom do you have?
- Will you have a private room with a locked door if you live with them?
- Will you receive payment, and if so, how much? As a domestic worker, you should receive pay for all hours worked. That means any hours over 40 in a workweek require overtime pay. However, hiring more than one caregiver would help reduce the risk of paying overtime. Furthermore, if Aunt Jane needs the skilled care of a registered nurse, they would only need to pay you a salary since professional positions are exempt from overtime pay. In either case, families who hire their caregivers to provide care to family members become employers and must get federal ID numbers, hire the caregiver as an employee and withhold taxes from their pay.
- When you are there, are you free to use their phones, eat their food, and use their supplies, or must you have your own?
- Can you have friends visit? Do you get time off?
- Do any other family members have concerns about your role(s)?
- What hours do they expect you to keep? Will you have a vacation?
Expectations About Personal and Physical Care
You also need to think about all tasks that need accomplishing. Here is a list of categories to consider as you put together your list. Which of the following will you do?
- Assisting with daily physical care-bathing, toileting, oral hygiene, feeding, hair care, nail care, grooming, dressing
- Transportation– going to doctor’s appointments, senior center, rehabilitation facility, grocery store, retail store, bank, running errands, etc.
- Medical care and treatments- wound care, nebulizer treatments, changing dressings, medication administration, monitoring oxygen, tracking the location of wandering individuals, scheduling medical appointments, monitoring symptoms, tracking progress, etc.
- Financial management – paying bills, calling bill collectors, talking to insurance companies, accounting offices, researching errors, etc.
- Food manager/cook – Plan menus, buy food, prepare food, serve it, feed it, clean up afterward, and store it.
- Fitness Trainer – determine what type of exercise they need and help them obtain it (daily).
- Building and Equipment – Complete house, car, and equipment repair and maintenance responsibilities.
- Advocate and legal authority – respond to all inquiries from legal offices, business offices, insurance companies, and others regarding legal matters.
Asking for Help
Don’t try to be like so many other first-time caregivers and attempt to prove to everyone that you can do “it” on your own. Struggling to do it all lets your pride get in the way, and it’s harmful to you and the one receiving your care. Usually, the caregiver becomes exhausted because they failed to ask for help. There is no shame in asking for help. In fact, many people receive a blessing from being able to help, and by not allowing them to do so, you are robbing them of that blessing.
If you decide to ask for help, a good idea is to create a task list of duties that need completion and let people pick what they feel they can do. People often want to help but don’t know how or what is needed. Helping them know what you need ensures their efforts go to the correct function needed.
If it’s a group meeting, have the interested parties sign up so duplicates do not occur, and then follow up to help them remember and answer any questions. Once they complete the tasks, show your appreciation with a personal thank-you in some form. If so, they may be willing to help again in the future.