Let Me Help You Today

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It seemed like a pretty typical morning. I was about to make breakfast. My kids were already up and playing. The baby was having his morning snooze. My MIL walked in the kitchen and asked for breakfast. I told her I was about to get it started when she said, “What can I do to help?”
I was a little stunned and didn’t answer right away. She repeated, “Is there anything I can do to help you?”
I replied, “I honestly don’t know. I’m not used to help. Most days you aren’t interested in helping me.”
She looked at me with hopeful eyes, “Then just let me help you today.”
Every day is different when you are caregiver for an elderly parent. Boundaries are shaded, roles are blurred, abilities and motivation sometimes change mid-task. You have to take it as it comes and adapt to where they are at any given moment.
As loving caregivers, we mustn’t give into the temptation to do everything for them. Instead, give them little jobs to do. Keep your parent an active part of your family. Some days you’ll be met with scowls. Some days flat out refusals. But other days they will be filled with gratitude that you let them help you and feel whole again, if only for a moment.

In the Kitchen

My mother-in-law loves to cook. Unfortunately, many of her kitchen skills are long gone. It’s too dangerous to let her use a knife to chop foods or even the peeler for vegetables. Her hands are shaky and her skin is paper thin making cuts a probability. She’s not strong enough to open cans or jars or fill pots. Her memory keeps her from finishing tasks and she will walk away from or lose her place mid-recipe. I could have her wash dishes as I do the cooking, but that’s no fun.
Instead I give her simple jobs. Could I do these myself with less trouble? Absolutely. But, it’s amazing how just letting her do small kitchen tasks lifts her spirit.  As always, remember safety first. I provide an apron, towels, and appropriate tools for my mother-in-law to use. I make sure the stove is set on the lowest possible cooking temperature to avoid burns and splatters. She’s never left alone while we’re cooking. 

In the Yard

I’m hermit-like not a very outdoorsy person but I recognize the value of being outside and try to make it part of our daily lives. We live on a farm, so there is always yard work to be done. Just as it is in the kitchen, all the jobs are small and easily handled. My mother-in-law gets tired and dehydrated easily when we are outside so these tasks are only done in optimal weather and under close supervision with multiple breaks for rest and water. 

In the Home

 My kids have chores. I have chores. My husband has chores. It makes sense that my mother-in-law, as part of our family be included in the chores. Just as you have to consider your children’s needs and capacity when assigning chores, so to it is for your elderly parent. Usually, these “chores” are done as I’m doing mine. They feel more like they are “helping” me rather than completing an assignment. 
In general, I ask my mother-in-law to clean up after herself, keep her room picked up, put away her books. I never ask her to do any heavy lifting, bending where she might fall over, or reaching into tall cabinets where she would be tempted to climb onto a stool. 
Giving my mother-in-law these small jobs and chores helps her feel needed and like the valued part of our family she is rather than a guest dependent on our hospitality. She remains active.  She has to think through the steps to accomplish tasks, keeping her mind sharp. By performing these tasks regularly, she stays familiar with our home and routines, giving her security and confidence. There will come a time when she isn’t able to help as much, so I’m taking her sound advice and, while she is able, letting her help me today.

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