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When you think about caregiving, you think of sacrifice. After all, “giving” is in the name. But, did you know that caregiving has something for you too?
When I became a caregiver, I thought I was providing a service. I was giving a gift to my MIL, my husband, my husband’s family. I would be teaching my children valuable lessons about sacrifice and service. It never once occurred to me what I would gain from being a caregiver.
Through my years as a caregiver I have learned so much. Not just about the act of caregiving and the many skills it develops (I can strip and make a bed super fast!) but caregiving has taught me much about life, values, relationships, and character.
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1. Make memories every day and document them
When I had my first baby, I savored almost every second of being a new mom. As my son grew, I took a mental note of every milestone, every sweet moment knowing there was absolutely no way I wouldn’t remember the details of every precious second.
But then I had another child. I became a caregiver. My family moved several times. I had my third child. Life moved on and I forgot the details. So on those times when you think, ”I never want to forget this moment,” take a few minutes and document those memories.
Ways to Document Memories
- Social Media: This may sound weird but sharing photos on social media and writing detailed posts is a great way to document. My favorite part of doing this is you can get daily “memory reminders” of past memories.
- Gratitude Journal: Every day I write 3-5 things that brought me joy or that I’m particularly grateful for that day. Not only is this a great way for me to remember, but it also keeps my life perspective positive.
2. Stop burning bridges.
Burning bridges isn’t always a good thing. Even if you have to step away from something or someone for whatever reason, do your best to provide complete and positive (if possible) closure. Bitterness is a waste of energy and WILL poison the other areas of your life.
Related Post: Finding A Common Purpose with A Family Agreement
It can be really hard when you feel yourself being stretched thin by the responsibilities looming over you to not push people away. It’s so important though that you take time to cultivate cultivate healthy relationships. Family is included in this. It is a false hope that family will always be there.
Choose your battles. Don’t let petty differences divide you. Be the peacemaker.
3. Add notes to your pictures.
Have you ever taken a picture only to look at it years later and have absolutely no idea who was in the picture, where it was taken, or the story behind it?
When I was in my mid-twenties, a doctor discovered an issue with my brain. After two surgeries and some mind-altering medications, I was left with very few memories of my college years. There are pictures from trips with friends, university events, and pivotal life moments that I cannot remember despite the photographic evidence.
Taking a few moments to jot down specifics on pictures that are important to you will ensure those memories stay alive longer.
4. Make a plan for your future.
We don’t like to think of ever relying on others the way our children rely on us now. I’m sure my MIL never thought there would be a day when she wouldn’t remember the steps involved in getting dressed for the day or making a cup of coffee. If it’s important to you now or you think it will be when you get older, make a note of it.
One day, if I need assisted living for whatever reason, I’d like my family to know how I wish to live out the remainder of my years.
- I want to be taken to church as long as I’m able.
- I’d like them to remind me to read my Bible or read it to me.
- I’d like them to know it’s ok to make me do things that I need to do to have a good quality of life (like showering) even if I balk at them.
- I want them to remember to include me as much as possible even if I won’t remember it later.
5. Don’t let other things get in the way of spending time with your family.
Routines, chores, work, and activities are all an important part of life. Making sure we balance them with spending time just being with your family is what turns surviving into thriving.
Leave the dishes for later. Keep your work at the office (if you can). Fold the laundry during nap time.
Life happens so fast. Don’t let your biggest regret be that you didn’t spend enough time with your family.
6. Stop wasting time on what doesn’t really matter.
Every few months I sit down with a pin and paper and evaluate life. I write down our struggles and our triumphs, what has worked well and what has been disappointing, my worries and frustrations.
As I read through it, I ask myself will this matter in five years? A year? A month or even a week from now? You’ll be amazed at how much clarity that brings. What I feel like is a HUGE deal right now, may not have any significance later in my life. I’ve just wasted a lot of precious time.
Related Post: Take My To-Do List and Let It Be
Schedule your downtime
Along with not wasting time on the “big” stuff that won’t matter later, you should also be wary of wasting time during your day.
I get really discouraged when I reach the end of my day and I see a lot of wasted time. I also have a great weakness for wasting time.
- I love playing games on my tablet.
- I get caught up in the books I’m reading (I’ve been known to skip sleep to finish a book).
- When I find a show or a movie I really like, I will binge watch until completion forsaking almost every other task I have on my plate.
Knowing this weakness, I schedule my downtime. I time block my day. My reward for completing the tasks on a time block is 15-20 minutes of what I call my “time wasters”. I only watch a show if I’m doing something else like laundry and I turn it off when I’m done with my task. Reading happens while I’m using my elliptical and stops when I’ve completed my workout.
Not only does this make maximum use of my time but it turns something that I don’t really enjoy into something I look forward to.
7. Don’t buy into the illusion that you will have tomorrow.
In 2014, my MIL came into our bedroom very early one Sunday morning and asked my husband to take his father to the hospital. Three days later we had to say goodbye. He was in good health, had lost a lot of weight, and was active. No one expected him to die.
My granddad died while my grandma was having a quick lunch with her best friend to celebrate my grandma’s birthday. She had spent the last 10 years as his caregiver while my granddad battled Dementia and Parkinson’s. She had no idea he would die on her birthday let alone while she was having lunch.
You don’t know how long you may have to live and you don’t know how long you have left with those most dear to you on this earth. Take advantage of every moment you have to be with them.
8. Live a life today that will make others want to take care of you if you need it.
So many caregivers feel trapped because they are having to take care of someone who never showed them the same courtesy.
My MIL lived a life of service and generosity before Dementia. She opened her home regularly to those in need. She showered those close to her with all she could give even when she knew her generosity would not be returned. Her friendships were treasured and her family adored. She was a woman who valued her faith and sought to be a strong, Christian woman.
I did not know this woman. But hearing the stories my husband and his siblings share and seeing glimpses of her during moments of clarity makes caring for her an easy choice.
9. Don’t let your struggles or difficult situations define who you are.
Only a few months into my new role as a caregiver I found myself changing. I was angry, bitter, hot-tempered, and uncaring – terrible qualities in anyone let alone a housewife, mom, and caregiver. Life was incredibly hard and I despised it with every fiber of my being.
I didn’t want to live that way and I knew I would have to make a change. I couldn’t walk away from my husband, my children, or my MIL and my situation was not likely to change anytime soon.
I decided I was going to stop letting my difficult life be who I was. Wife, mom, caregiver, homemaker – these are just roles I play and they will change. At the end of my life I want to be called a woman of Godly character.
Related Post: How to Be Happy As A Caregiver for Your Aging Parent
Life has not gotten any easier. In many ways it is more difficult now than when I started. But because I am no longer defined by my circumstances, I live a life of joy and contentment.
10. Love deeply. Love bravely. Love unconditionally. Never miss an opportunity to say “I love you”.
Real love is never easy. It requires time, commitment, courage, and sacrifice. But it’s so worth it! When you put love behind your caregiving, the difficulties become less burdensome, the duty less of a struggle, the conversations less strained. Your burnout will become less frequent and you will have fewer expectations on what your aging parent “should be/do”. Love is the secret to finding joy as a caregiver.
You never expect caregiving to give anything to you. After all, you are the one sacrificing for your aging parent. When you take a step back you will find you’ve learned some valuable lessons on how to live your own life fully, being mindful of the small moments, finding joy even in the most difficult of times. These lessons will not only make you a better caregiver but a better human.
Did you like this post? What lessons have you learned about life from taking care of your elderly parent? Let me know in the comments below!
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