by Maggie Almeida
Caregiving itself is an art. Many today are part of the Sandwich Generation who find themselves caring for both young children and teenagers as well as aging parents. Caregivers need to be professional multi-taskers to address everyone’s needs and not neglect their own. So what should a good caregiver focus on? As many know, it’s a balancing act, but there’s an order to follow starting with the caregiver himself.
Step number one is to look out for number one; me, myself, I, the big cheese, the head beagle (just ask Snoopy). This may sound selfish, but it’s really the most unselfish place to start. After all, if number one is not well, you cannot take care of your other charges. If you have a good attitude, you can even overcome your own health issues with greater ease. Those you care for also notice because they naturally behave as they see you behaving. This is called mirroring. One wise caregiver told me that her husband with Alzheimer’s was manageable because she knew that when her demeanor was calm, so was his. If she raised her voice, so did he. You can see where this leads. The caregiver had total control of her life as long as she managed her own emotions.
Step number two would be to give your attention to the next most vulnerable person you’re caring for. If it’s a child, have the older generation help since they may be acting childlike now. They may be able to play simple games with a child that you don’t have time for. Age and ability specific jigsaw puzzles, puppets, lying down with a child to get them to take a nap, or any other play related activity.
If your children are older, and you need to focus on Mom or Dad or Aunt Sally, have the older children help you in caring for your aged loved one. Keep it small and simple, but their involvement can mean the world to the older relative. It esteems them and they feel useful, as if the child needs their guidance. Some children feel esteemed when they’re asked to help and it also builds their character to practice acts of kindness toward the elderly. If they want an example of the positive impact of a grandmother on a pop star they all know, look at Will Smith. Even while accepting an American Music Award he gave the credit to his grandmother. She must have been inspirational, but he also allowed himself to be inspired by spending time with her. Parents can make this happen and enhance the whole family dynamic as well as build its heritage.
In conclusion, look at multi-tasking as building blocks. Today many families are fragmented because a caregiver in the sandwich generation gets burnt out on both ends. As they focus on caregiving, there are levels of trust and affection that we build. When the stress gets too much, sometimes the “tower of family solidarity” gets knocked down. Someone yells or cries. This doesn’t mean that the tower is erased from memory. Go back and do something nice for yourself because you are the cornerstone of your tower. The other blocks will be added again and again. Focus on the big picture because your part in caregiving is a temporary role in a continuum. As soon as your duties end, you may be the one needing care.