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Maintaining Relationships: The Person You Are Caring For

Posted Feb 03 2011 12:00am




“Relationships; we all got ‘em, we all want ‘em, but what do we do with ‘em?”

-Jimmy Buffet

Take a moment to brainstorm all the relationships in your life. You have family, which can be broken into several categories: parents, siblings, aunt/uncles, cousins and grandparents. You could have family friends that are as close, if not closer than blood relatives. Maybe a significant other? How about your close friends, acquaintances and co-workers. The list is getting large, isn’t it?  As time progresses, we are going to take a look at what type of a role these people play in your life, if the relationship is benefiting you and how you can maintain a healthy relationship.

Let’s begin with the obvious relationship; the person you are caring for. In my case, I was caring for my mother.  My mom was a stay-at-home mom who took care of everything household related. Dinner was on the table promptly at 6:30, the laundry was done on Mondays and Thursdays. One large Costco trip was done weekly, while quick runs to the local grocery store took place daily. The house was to be vacuumed daily, while the “whole house” cleaning took place on Friday.  Wednesday evenings consisted of my mother trying to teach my brother and me how to cook. (Looking back, I should have paid attention those nights, as it would have improved my position in the kitchen.) The point is this: My mother had a schedule that she had implemented some twenty years ago, and now she could no longer hold to it. You can imagine that when I stepped in to take over the “motherly duties”, it didn’t go over so well.

I did my best to stick to her schedule, but the truth was I did not have the drive and motivation she did to be a “mom”. The laundry was done, but I wasn’t taking pride in the table full of folded clothes. In fact, I loathed the table of folded clothes! My dad was a grown man; couldn’t he do his own laundry? I would cook dinner (and it was on the table at 6:30), but it wasn’t quite as good as mom had made. The chicken was a little dry, the broccoli was a little over cooked, the rolls where not basted with butter at quite the appropriate time. You get the picture.

Looking back now, no one was as hard on me as I was on myself. I wanted to fill her role, so she didn’t feel inadequate. In the end, we both ended up feeling inadequate. Know this; you will never be able to replace the person you are caring for. They had a role in your life, and the life of those they surrounded themselves with. Their role just needs to be modified.

Maintaining a mother-daughter relationship was hard because the roles had been completely reversed. I was now the mother figure, keeping the family on a schedule, getting my mom to her appointments and being the taxi driver she had always been. Take a moment and acknowledge the shift in authority in your personal situation. The relationship that was may no longer be.

It was important for me, as the daughter and caregiver, to recognize the lack of control she now had of her own life. It was also important for me to recognize those things she could still have control over, and allow her to execute her authority. Simple things like what we should have for dinner and allowing her to create the shopping list even though she didn’t have the strength to go shopping. Would she like to go out to lunch before her treatment and where would she like to go? (I could just as easily made her lunch and not given her a choice.) These things sound simple and unimportant, but they are. Allow the person you are caring for to maintain as much independence as possible, and I promise you, your relationship will be better because of it.

Having the ability to walk away is also very important. If you are the only person available, at all times to care for this individual, you need to learn to delegate. (I, of course, am the pot calling the kettle “black”). Free time is crucial to the sanity of the person you are caring for and yourself, particularly if there was a shift in authority as there was in our house. I promise you there will be times when you will want to pull your hair out. There will be times the person you are caring for will want to pull your hair out. (Why would they want to inflict any pain on themselves? It’s much easier to pull your hair out than their own). The two of you will not always see eye to eye. Unless you are Mary Poppins and all you need is a spoonful of sugar to help everything go down, having the opportunity to walk away and cool down is the secret ingredient to maintaining a healthy relationship with person you are caring for.

Just like Aretha said, it’s all about R-E-S-P-E-C-T.  When doing something for the person you are caring for, ask for their opinion. When doing something to the person, ask for permission. Yes, the poking and prodding is all a part of a day‘s treatment/work…but the human element cannot be forgotten.  By taking the extra second to ask the correct question and give the ailing individual a little say in the situation; everyone involved will feel in control. We all know that a lack of control can be very uncomfortable. This entire journey is about creating comfort and trust.

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