Role Reversal

Do You Have What It Takes to Be A Caregiver for Your Aging Parent?

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You may not start out with all that’s needed to be a caregiver but thankfully, with grace and persistence, you can develop the character it takes to be a great caregiver.


When I began this journey four years ago, I would have told you I was prepared for the road ahead. I knew it was not going to be easy but I was certainly capable. 

Boy was I wrong! 

The first year was one of the worst of my life! I started to think we were making a horrible mistake and that despite everyone’s desires, including my own, we would have to find a facility for my MIL. My MIL was certain I hated her (and would tell me so often!). I was certain she hated me.

There was discord with my husband’s siblings. My home was filled with anxiety and conflict rather than being the peaceful sanctuary I so desperately craved. 

I told God I couldn’t do this anymore. He was going to have to make some changes! I wanted my MIL gone so we could live like a “normal” family. It was clear to me that I was not created to be a caregiver. I informed God that He was going to have to change this situation. Now! 

Well, my prayers were answered but not in the way I expected. He began to change me and I began to learn how to be a caregiver.

When I began this journey four years ago, I would have told you I was prepared for the road ahead. Boy was I wrong! I'm so glad I finally discovered what makes a great caregiver! #caregiver #agingparents #elderlyparents #caregiving #character #learning #alzheimers #dementia #sandwichgeneration #multigenerational

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Patience

Anyone who is or has been a successful and happy caregiver will tell you that the most important trait you must have is patience. Without it, you will constantly be at war with the person for whom you care. I found that my patience increased dramatically when I changed two things.

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    Relax Expectations

    I expected my mother in law to act like a normal, functioning, clear thinking adult. Let’s be real here, if she were those things she would have no need of my care. When I eased those expectations and started seeing her as she was and not how I wanted her to be, my thinking changed from “Why is she being so difficult?” to “How can I make her life easier today?”.

    Related Post: Recognizing When Your Aging Parent Is Having A Bad Day

    Recognize Capabilities

    My MIL has Dementia. The deterioration of her brain makes her comprehension, reasoning, and mental capacity very similar to my children. With this realization, I began to change my methods. Instead of saying, “ go get dressed for church , I will instead break down the steps of what is required to get dressed. I don’t do anything for her that I know she can do for herself. I might have to stand there and guide her through the steps, but most mornings she makes her own coffee. 

    Good Humor

    While humor in a “funny ha-ha” sort of way is extremely important in caregiving, more important is the ability to maintain your good humor through the difficult situations that arise. You will find yourself elbow deep in piles of poo (metaphorical and literal!) more often than you thought humanly possible. Without humor, anger and bitterness quickly take hold. The old adage, “Don’t cry over spilled milk,” becomes a daily necessity. You must be able to take things lightly as they come or you will face burn-out.

    Sometimes you’re just choosing to laugh instead of cry. To watch someone’s mind deteriorate into a more childlike state is not funny. But that doesn’t mean you can’t find humor in some situations.Related Post: The Simple Solution to Finding Happiness As A Family CaregiverMy MIL hates to put on underwear. Despises it. But she’s also incontinent at times. It continues to be one of our biggest battles. One day in the doctor’s office she was reading a magazine. In one of the articles it talked about going “commando”. She read the statement to me and remarked very seriously, “Ugh! Why would anyone not wear their underpants?! That’s just disgusting!” I just smiled and told her I have no idea why someone would go without underwear. Later I told my husband and we laughed at the irony.

    Quick Thinking and Adaptability

    A great caregiver learns the art of fast thinking as they have to rebut excuses, redirect tantrums, follow conversational rabbit trails, and enter alternate realities on the turn of a dime. With mental diseases such as Dementia, your parent will go from one line of thought to another without pause. Some will be rational, others will not. You will need to quickly follow and respond. My MIL will often ask for food within minutes of eating a large meal. If I don’t quickly redirect, she will become obsessed with how she can get more food resorting to unusual or even dangerous methods (like trying to microwave a frying pan). A common stumbling block in aging parents is personal hygiene. Getting them in the shower can be a battle and their reasons against it change regularly. You have to be able to form a response quickly. If my MIL says she can’t take a shower because she’s hungry, I say I’ll have food ready for you when you get out.

    Don’t be afraid to be creative

    Many times you will have to come up with some creative solutions to your unique situations. Within a week, my MIL went from a woman who could dress herself appropriately for the occasion to wanting to wear a nightgown to church. My solution was to organize her closet by clothing type and put in hanging closet organizers labeled with each category (skirts, slacks, day dresses, etc.). This is working well for now, but there will come a time when I will have to find another solution. 

    Thick-skin

    One thing about caregiving that took me a long time to learn was that we are often the target of anger and bitterness. It can be difficult for me to provide the care my mother-in-law requires when I feel like all she can do is criticize and accuse. 

    Related Post: How to Cope with Caregiving Resistance

    1. I stopped reacting. When she gets particularly snippy, I paste on a smile, turn off my ears to the best of my ability, and finish my task as quickly and silently as possible. I found the more I try to defend myself, the worse it got. It’s difficult for them to argue with silence. 
    2. I found someone to talk to. In order to keep the negativity and harsh words from becoming truth for me, I sought support. Initially it was a therapist. In the last year, I have found the support I need from friends and Facebook groups. Wherever you find it, it is imperative that you find someone you trust to really vent to so your parent doesn’t become an object of your own anger and bitterness.

    Just Walk Away

    Recently, I was doing some housework and my MIL called me into her room. “I want you to find my drivers license”, she said, “I know I have one.”  Trying to remain calm I replied, “You do. I have it put away for when you need it.” “Well, I need it now. And the keys to my car. I’m going to take [our aide] to Georgia!” she exclaimed.  

    What proceeded was a long discussion on why she can’t drive. Redirection was ineffective. Near the end she accused me yet again of hating her.This time she said it was because I could never understand her, we are nothing alike. A little taken aback, I told her quite the contrary, we are very much alike in our interests and some of our experiences. I was about to detail our similarities when she said, “Well that sucks for me then!” Simply saying I was sorry she felt that way and that I was doing my best to make her happy, I left the room and when she came into the kitchen an hour later, she had already forgotten the conversation.

    It’s hard not to hold a grudge when such meanness is thrown at you regularly but you must learn to let it go or you too will be swallowed up in anger and bitterness.Related Post: How to Handle Elderly Bad Behavior

    Do you have what it takes to be a caregiver?

    When I started out, I knew I had everything under control. I’m a nice person. I would have gone to nursing school if it wasn’t for the blood, surely I have what it takes to be a caregiver. I soon found out that much of my character needed to be developed. Even now, with everything I’ve experienced and learned there are still days when I go to bed certain that this was my last day as a caregiver. Thankfully, with grace and persistence, you can develop what it takes to be a great caregiver.

    Did you like this post? What have you found are the traits every caregiver needs? Let me know in the comments below.

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    When I began this journey four years ago, I would have told you I was prepared for the road ahead. Boy was I wrong! I'm so glad I finally discovered what makes a great caregiver! #caregiver #agingparents #elderlyparents #caregiving #character #learning #alzheimers #dementia #sandwichgeneration #multigenerational

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    2 Comments

    1. Thank you for sharing. This is so encouraging. I do not have this situation yet but my mother is showing some signs of dementia. I love the grace you have shown. I pray that I also will behave in such a way should the same thing happen to me. That I would be a caregiver with patience as you have become. God bless you!

    2. After my mom’s diagnosis I felt the same way, the 1st year was horrible exspecially after the death of my father. Our house was full of chaos constantly. Each day is different. Thank you for this article I will definitely pass it on.

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