Caregiver Relationships

Why Do Caregivers Have Difficulties With Friendships?

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Are you a caregiver having difficulties with friendships? Whether maintaining or building friendships, find out how to be a friend to and as a caregiver.

One of the most common complaints from parents and caregivers alike is how difficult it is to find friends. I’ve always found building and maintaining friendships to be difficult at the best of times for a few reasons.

  • I’m a very private person and avoid sharing; a crucial part of friendships.
  • I get wrapped up in my routine and lack spontaneity.
  • I prefer intimate friendships to casual acquaintances which take investments of time and energy.

When I became a parent, friendships got a bit tougher. I had even less time and energy and my closest friends were from my pre-kid working days. They had no children and found my new-mom conversations ranging from spit-up to diaper rashes to teething troubles to be disgusting dull.

As a parent and a caregiver, I’ve found friendships next to impossible. But, why do caregivers have difficulties with friendships?

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A Lack of Understanding

Parents constantly talk about their kids. We commiserate over getting our kids to eat healthy meals. We share our notes on pediatricians and bond over potty training. To find that we are not alone is like a balm to our soul.

The unique journey of parenting makes it difficult to have friends who are not parents simply because, while there is no shortage of opinions, our childless friends have no first-hand knowledge.

Similarly, unless you’ve been a caregiver, you don’t really understand the daily struggles. Just like in our parenting, caregivers need to vent about struggles and share joys. You need fresh ideas, ways to make life a little bit easier.

Your non-caregiver friends and family may offer a listening ear and their well-intentioned advice but they have little to offer in practical solutions because they just don’t understand your unique struggles.

Related Post: Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Caregiver

A Lack of Growth

When you are a parent, you talk about the triumphs of finally finding a vegetable your kids will actually eat or that one thing that made the alphabet “click” for your kid. You are able to celebrate and move on to your new challenges.

I have been struggling to keep underwear on my MIL for four years now. I battle getting her to take her medicines, to feel loved and valued, to control her need to continuously eat. The struggles we began with are the struggles we still have today. It never gets better.

Related Post: How to Handle Elderly Bad Behavior

For a friend, it’s draining to see a caregiver struggle with no resolution, no growth. Without change, you develop a familiarity or comfort level even to hardship. When you’re not living “in the trenches” with the problems and only hearing about it, it becomes monotonous. This monotony makes it easy to glaze over these needs making the caregiver feel burdensome to their friends or worse, that the friend no longer cares.

A Lack of Reciprocation

Before I became a parent, I had a lot of dreams of the type of parent I would be. I would be active in my kids activities like my mom was when I was growing up. I would volunteer to teach VBS and children’s choir at our church and maybe even be a Sunday School teacher. My kids would be involved in several activities. Playdates and field trips would be in abundance and I would develop many friendships that would last beyond our parenting years.

Non-caregivers don’t really understand why I can’t just leave my MIL for hours and go on a playdate. They don’t understand why I’m not getting more involved in activities with my children. My lifestyle appears unapproachable, guarded, or even selfish.

It’s hard to be a friend to someone who is already stretched to the max and has nothing left to give back to you. Friendship has to be two sided. Each person giving something of value to a relationship. As a wife, mom, and caregiver I have very little left to give.

Don’t give up on your caregiver friends

I know it seems hard and monotonous but remember caregiving is just a season of our lives and there will come a day when we will no longer be a caregiver. Be a friend to us today by:

  • Offering a sympathetic, listening ear
  • Be willing to help us plan ways to get out and enjoy friendships
  • Don’t be offended by our infrequent availability
  • Realize there is a lot on our plate and give us grace
  • If you truly want to help us, make a plan. A lot of people offer help “just to be nice”. After a while, caregivers stop taking these offers seriously and will lie and say they don’t need it.

Related Post: The Many Roles of Caregiving

Caregivers, nurture your friendships

Even with everything we have on our plates, we still have much to offer in this season of caregiving to our friends. Plan ways to enjoy friendships.

  • Host a gathering in your home. It doesn’t have to be elaborate. Just ask a couple of friends over for wine and popcorn or an informal dinner.
  • Plan in advance for a night out. Hire sitters for your parent and your kids and take the night off. Go have dinner or just a drink with some pals. You will be amazed at how refreshing this 2-hr respite will be.
  • Plan a time once or twice a week to touch base with your friends. Set reminders on your phone to text or call.
  • Be careful how you use your friends. They want to be there for you but having expectations of them providing anything but friendship to you can be exploiting your friendship.

A word of caution…

Be careful and don’t use your friends merely as outlets for your complaints. I know you’re frustrated but a friend who has nothing to offer but complaints about their struggles is hard to handle. Instead consider

  • Joining an online support group. There are HUNDREDS of Facebook groups for caregivers specifically for the purpose of venting.
  • Hire a therapist. One of the best things I did especially at the beginning of my caregiving was get a therapist. I truly believe it’s what kept me going through the rocky parts of our first 2 years and why I’m still a caregiver today. Many therapists even offer video chat therapy if you find getting out to be a chore.
  • Keep a journal. You will be amazed at how the act of writing down your thoughts brings clarity to a situation. Every evening I spend a few moments just jotting down the highlights from the day – the good, the bad, the blessings, the struggles – all get recorded. It gets it out of my brain and keeps me from stewing over things I cannot change.

Let it go!

Finally to my fellow sandwiched homemakers, don’t be offended when you’re not asked to participate. Your true and close friends know that you are not in a place to “do all the things” you once did. Most of the time you’re not asked because they want to spare you the guilt you feel from saying no again. Others, just don’t understand.

The truth is, unless you have been through this journey yourself you just don’t understand and that’s ok. As a sandwiched homemaker, understand that there are those who will misunderstand your journey simply because they haven’t experienced it. Don’t take their reactions or lack of inclusion personally.

A lot of caregivers have difficulty building and maintaining friendships and a lot of friends have those same difficulties being a friend to a caregiver. Recognize there will be a day when this is no longer an issue. With some adjustments, perseverance, and understanding true and beautiful friendships can be made that will withstand this season of caregiving.

Did you like this post? Do you struggle with maintaining friendships as a caregiver? Let me know in the comments below!

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