Create your caregiving experience, don't just react to itSomething that many of us experience on a regular basis is the feeling that we are flying through life -- running from one thing that needs to be done to another thing that needs to be done without really feeling like we have time to savor it. Caregiving for someone we love may add to our feeling there is more to be done than time to do it.
Importance of scheduling time
Despite this chronic lack of time we feel, and maybe even because of it, we need to schedule time to step back and decide if we are living in a manner that is consistent with our values and with what brings us contentment, peace of mind, and joy.
If we don’t schedule time to ponder these questions it is unlikely we ever will fully explore them. And if we don’t fully explore these questions and adjust how we are living to reflect our answers, we may find that we are moving through life with a chronic sense of mild dissatisfaction, or worse.
Live in a manner consistent with your values
I found out how important it is to take stock of what really matters in my life after my Mother had a massive, debilitating stroke. At the time she had the stroke I was balancing many responsibilities and roles in my life. I had just started a doctoral program while continuing to work fulltime, and I was also trying to maintain some semblance of a personal life. And, now there was also much to be done on the caregiving front. Many decisions needed to be made and acted on quickly, including selling my parents’ home and moving my Father into an independent living facility where my Mother would eventually join him after a year of rehabilitation in a long term care facility.
Create your caregiving experience, don’t just react to it
In the midst of all of that I began to feel overwhelmed. I wasn’t sure how I was going to continue to balance everything. That is when I realized that I needed to step back and ask myself some heart-felt questions with the intent of creating my caregiving experience instead of just reacting to it. I needed to clearly think through who I wanted to be during this caregiving experience and how I wanted to look back on this experience after it was over.
Questions to ask
I will share with you some of the questions I asked myself in the hopes these will give you a starting point for creating your caregiving experience:
- Of all of the roles and responsibilities I am balancing, which of these are most important to me in the long run?
- Which of these roles and responsibilities is most in-line with my values, with what is truly important in my life, and which of these are things that keep me very busy but don’t add significant, long-term meaning to my life?
- After my Mother dies, how do I want to describe this time period when I look back on it?
- How do I want to feel about my behavior/actions during this caregiving experience when I look back?
- Who do I want to be able to say I was during this experience, how do I want to be able to describe my behavior, and what role do I want to have played in her life during this time?
- What do I need to resolve during this caregiving experience, while I still have time to do so with my Mother?
- What adjustments/changes do I need to make in my life to reflect the answers to these questions?
These are deeply personal questions that only you can answer. If these particular questions don’t resonate with you, design some that do. For me, they helped me realize that I had some choice in this experience and could have a role in creating my experience.
Take specific actions
To do this, I needed to take some specific actions. One of the key issues I had to deal with at that time was the endless deadlines for papers and assignments associated with my doctoral program. Often I would be working on a paper when a “caregiving crisis” would occur. However, I had already decided when I thought through these questions who I wanted to be in this caregiving experience and how I wanted to look back on it.
What is most important to you right now?
I was clear that my Mother’s needs were much more important to me than finishing the doctoral program by some artificially set date. So, at various times I had to turn in a paper late, take an incomplete for a semester or, for one semester take a leave of absence.
I did all of this because I was clear that I wanted to look back and feel that I both maximized my time with my Mother, and provided her with the best care I was capable of providing. I did not want to look back and feel that I sacrificed this time with my Mother for the accomplishment of finishing my doctoral programs years quicker. Looking back, I would change nothing about how I managed these conflicting roles.
I encourage you to go through this mental/emotional exercise to create your caregiving experience. There is much about caregiving you can’t control. Yet there is often more we can impact than we realize. Decide today that you are going to create a caregiving experience you can look back at with fondness, pride, love, contentment, and satisfaction—one in which you chose to live in accordance with your values. I’m confident your life will be richer for taking the time to do this exercise.