My mother had double-knee surgery with complications several weeks ago and so I've been playing care-giver for awhile. Talking with M.'s aunt the other day (who has been a care-giver of her husband for several years now) had us comparing notes about the things we've learned about taking care of others. And though she has way more experience than I do, we found similar themes running through our experiences. After our helpful conversation, I thought I'd share a few things here to perhaps encourage someone else who finds themselves in a similar situation.
1.) Adjust your schedule. From taking care of my mother several years ago with another health issue, I learned that this time I needed to clear my calendar. Years ago, I tried to keep up with my regular schedule AND take care of her. It didn't go well - my family suffered, my mother suffered and I suffered the consequences. This time, I put aside all my regular outside commitments and focused ONLY on taking care of my family and my mother.
2.) Don't do more than is expected. This might not sound quite right at first, but my tendency is to go overboard and do way more than my mother ever expects me to do. I then end up stressed, exhausted and resentful. I've learned to ask specifically what needs done and what doesn't need done.
3.) Keep their preferences in mind. I've come to learn to be thoughtful in how I do things for my mother. My tendency is to sail in and just start putting things in order and doing things the way I would do them. And because my mother is non-confrontational, she'll let me go ahead. However, the Lord spoke to my heart about considering how she would like her cupboards arranged or her paperwork done. I realized that my mother has her own way of keeping house - and even though it's different than mine, I want to be respectful of it. (Though that doesn't mean I can't make helpful suggestions from time to time.)
4.) Communicate and ask, don't assume. This one goes along with some of the others I've mentioned. I've found it best to be as honest as possible and ask, not assume. Though my mother and I both tend to be non-confrontational people, I've found this can be dangerous in a relationship and result in resentment. I must force myself to be open and encourage her to do the same.
5.) Take one moment at a time. I know this sounds cliche, but it's a fact. I find that if I get into the mindset of thinking what next month or next week or tomorrow will look like, I can get easily overwhelmed thinking of all that needs done. What needs done will get done - and the rest will get sifted out.
6.) Have a sounding board. Have someone you can call up for encouragement. Care-giving can be demanding, stressful and overwhelming at times, even short-term care-giving. When I need some fresh air, I call my sister. Though she can't help much with the nitty-gritty because of her season of life, she's great at moral support. M.'s aunt is also such a help to me because she's far deeper in the trenches than me and understands.
7.) Remember that this is only a season. Taking care of my mom is a season - just like childrearing, it won't last forever. Whether short-term care or long-term care, this is only a small portion of life. And though hard at times, there is also joy - which leads to the next one . . .
8.) Look for, and pray for, joy. In the past few weeks, Mom and I have had some great moments. Keeping things light, laughing over moments, and looking for things for which we can be thankful has helped to make the situation easier. I've been praying that the LORD would help me have a deeper love and compassion for my mother through this situation and He's answering.