Should you become a family caregiver? (Episode 57)

Should you become a family caregiver? That’s what Kay Coughlin discusses in this episode. Kay gives the ten questions that she asked herself before she decided to become a caregiver. Whether you are a caregiver already or not, these questions can help you get un-stuck, and get the help you need immediately.

Find the list of ten questions in the free boundaries group here.

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Transcript of episode is below.

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Transcript: Should you become a caregiver? (Episode 57)

Hi there. I’m your host Kay Coughlin. And you’re listening to From One Caregiver To Another. I am a sandwich family caregiver. I have kids and I am the primary caregiver for my own mother, and I don’t believe the old stories and traditions about being a caregiver have to be true for us as caregivers. I believe we can have dreams even when we have caregiver responsibilities. We have value as individuals, we deserve to say no and to have our own lives. Nobody can do it all of course, but we can decide what’s okay with us, what’s not okay with us, and we can dare to be ourselves. This is episode 57.

This episode today is for people who are thinking about becoming family caregivers. But also if you are already a caregiver, this can really help you ask some good questions and understand the ways that you might be stuck right now as a family caregiver.

I am recording this episode for release during November and November is national caregiver appreciation month. So I thought in honor of us, it would be good to ask this question, which is, should I become a family caregiver, and look at this in a really intentional way.

Whether you aren’t yet a caregiver, or if you’ve been doing it a while, I want you to know that I did do a series on what it’s like to be a person with caregiver responsibilities. And I break that out into four different stages. There’s one episode for each. And if you want to listen and I really think you should, go listen, those episodes are 45 through 48.

Now, I know that at least some of you are thinking right now that you did not choose this, you didn’t sign up for it. And being a family caregiver just happened to you. It just became a part of your reality. That is very real. And I really just want to acknowledge that that is the situation for an awful lot of family caregivers out there.

And by the way, I would love to see some numbers on this at some point on people who chose being a caregiver and people who did not choose it. So if anybody out there is looking for new data to study about caregivers, that’d be a good one.

Even when you became a family caregiver through no choice of your own, you know you still get to ask questions and you get to make choices about how you approach your caregiver responsibilities. As always, I am not going to tell you to just get a different attitude or be more positive about your situation. I do think that the science about positivity and gratitude is real, but I just did a whole podcast episode about how forcing positivity on ourselves or on other people is not kind. And it’s probably not even very helpful.

I want you, someone who’s considering being a caregiver or someone who is a family caregiver, you please bring your whole entire self to the conversation. When you think about your caregiver situation now, or what it could look like in the future, bring it all, bring all of yourself and don’t try to deny the things that are hard and maybe don’t look very positive.

Now, if you’re new to this podcast, I want to explain to you the language that I use to talk about being a caregiver.

I’m really intentional about using the term person with caregiver responsibilities, instead of just saying caregiver, whenever I possibly can. Now it’s a clunky term, so I can’t always do it. But I like to use it and I’m trying to get other people to use it too, because it’s really easy for all of us to just forget that we are individual people first and being a caregiver is just one of the many things that defines us.

I’m also careful to use the term care receiver, instead of saying loved one. When I’m referring to the people we care for, there’s a real sort of imbalance built into the relationship, just built into it from the get-go when we use the terms caregiver and loved one. And if you look at it that way, it’s as if the caregiver doesn’t deserve love and human rights, the way a loved one ought to. So the term care receiver, in my opinion, balances that out a lot.

Now, a lot of people have challenged whether or not we can use that term care receiver in everyday life. Maybe it sounds too clinical, or maybe it’s something you would hesitate to use around your family, but I’ll tell you what my mom is the person I care for. She is my care receiver, and I do use the term care receiver sometimes with her when we’re talking about our relationship. And I use the term with my siblings and members of my church and with doctors and nurses also. I mean, is it a little awkward? Sure. It’s a little awkward, but wow, it really evens up the scales. It really reminds people that I have a life and that I have needs too.

In this episode, I’m going to come at this question of should I become a family caregiver, in the way that I wish I would have known to do way back in 2009 and in 2010. And that was when my husband and I were really just starting to consider what we wanted to do about helping my parents in the long-term.

I really stumbled into asking these questions because I had to, because I just couldn’t find anything or anyone out there to help me. And honestly, it took me years to even realize that I had asked myself these questions and it’s because I just couldn’t find anybody to encourage me or help me in this objective way. Definitely they couldn’t help me in a way where I could look at myself as part of the whole package.

We tend to look at caregiving as being all about the person who needs the care. And we tend to forget as a society that we caregivers, we are people too. And I’ll talk more about that in a minute.

So that question we’re starting with today is should I become a family caregiver, but you know what? It is way too big of a question to look at as just this question, there’s really no way to answer it in a way that’s going to serve you at all. It’s just a big overwhelming question when you put it that way. So we have to find a way to eat this giant watermelon of a question one bite at a time. So I’ve got a list below of some of the actual questions to ask yourself, and I’m going to go through these.

This is a list of a whole bunch of questions that I can see are hidden in that first big question. These are the questions that I started out really getting into all those years ago that I didn’t knownI was asking. So I’m going to give you that list and I’m also going to give you some of my thoughts on each of them.

Before we get started, please know that there are no right or wrong answers here. Being a person with caregiver responsibilities, especially one who’s in a long-term situation is not a decision that should be taken lightly. And it’s not something to rush into. Please take good care of yourself and really respect yourself by responding to these questions as honestly as you can. Sometimes you’re going to find here that you end up with more questions than answers and that’s okay too. That’s how this works. Now is not the time to try to hide your real thoughts and feelings from yourself. There is just too much at stake for you.

And yes, I know that I’m going to be covering a whole lot of ground in this episode. So you do not have to stop what you’re doing to take notes. I have posted a list of these questions over in my free community to talk about boundaries. If you want to get the list, then I highly recommend that you join that community right now. And the link is in the show notes.

So the first smaller question that’s buried within the big question is to make the question about one person specifically, so that it’s not a general question. So the question we started with was, should I become a family caregiver. Now it becomes, should I become a family caregiver for… And you put the name of the person in here that you’re thinking about. So should I become a family caregiver for my mother, or should I become a family caregiver for my father or for my sister or whoever it is that you’re thinking about.

Why is it important to make this specific? It’s because we tend to think that being a person with caregiver responsibilities is all about the things that we have to do for people. And I mean, things like driving them around or getting their groceries and doctor appointments, giving them a bath stuff like that.

But what I’ve learned from my own experience and from my work as a coach for family caregivers is that the most important aspect of being a caregiver is your relationship with the person you’ll be caring for. That’s right. It’s not about the things you do for them. At least not as a family caregiver, it’s about what your relationship looks like.

And here’s what I mean. I know a lot of people in my life I could easily care for if it came down to it, if I needed to. And I know a lot of people I would really struggle to be responsible for. And that’s because of the different relationships I have with people. So now is the time to start thinking about the specific person you would be caring for. And also if you are a sandwich family caregiver like me, you do need to consider the needs of your kids and your partner if you have one.

Next question then is this short term or long-term. Because short-term and long-term are very different situations with very different answers. For myself, I know that I could be a caregiver for a very short time for almost anybody, if I absolutely had to. Being in a long-term situation, that would be much different because then the relationship with the person will become even more important over time.

Next one. And I just asked it, so I’m going to ask it explicitly here. What is my relationship with this person? Like is the person that I’m thinking about becoming a caregiver for, is this person willing or able to change and what will I do if they can’t change or won’t change? Because here’s the honest to goodness truth. You cannot ever control or change another person, but you especially aren’t going to be able to help them change if they don’t want to, or if something is going to totally prevent that. And I mean, like dementia.

Now if the person you’re thinking about becoming a caregiver for is willing to get help with whatever they need, whether it’s mental health or physical health or behaviors, that’s something that could make your situation a lot easier. But if the person you’re considering caring for has a serious mental condition or refuses to get physical therapy, or maybe they have an addiction that’s not under control and they have no intention of managing it. Or it may be if this person abused you or if they abused someone you love. Well, you’re really going to want to proceed here with a lot of caution, because none of that is going to change when you become a caregiver for that person, they will still be the same person. And so will you.

Here’s another thing to watch for. If the person you might end up caring for believes strongly that a caregiver is a servant and is supposed to sacrifice everything and the caregiver is there to do the bidding of the care receiver, you know, is that something that you’re prepared to deal with? Because I’ll tell you what, if that’s the belief going into this? That’s not likely to change.

Next question then is, do I know how to set boundaries? Because I’m telling you this is going to come up no matter what your situation looks like now or in the future. I find setting boundaries is the number one skill that can make your life better for you.

No matter what your situation is now, how do you know that you might need to set a boundary? Well, you know you might need to set a boundary if you are struggling with feeling, and there’s a big list here, So listen up. If you’re struggling with feeling resentful, rushed, run down, burned out, irritated, grumpy, overwhelmed, overlooked, taken for granted or disrespected.

Now, if you aren’t at all familiar with boundaries, what they are or what my definition is, or if you know you need to learn a lot more and you want to learn more, please go join my free community to talk about boundaries.

You can find the link at slash boundaries. And I’ll put that link in the show notes.

Next question. Do I have the capacity to do this? You might ask yourself, do I have the physical ability to do it? You know, I see a lot of people become caregivers, even when they don’t have the physical ability to handle being a caregiver for any number of reasons. I know people who have serious physical health conditions and I mean ranging from chronic back pain to long-term cancer. And these people will become a caregiver to someone else because they just don’t think they have the right to refuse. So please stop and ask yourself if you actually do have the capacity to be a caregiver.

So the next question then is: what are the reasons I am thinking about accepting this responsibility? You could have a whole big list of really positive reasons here. And, and that’s true. And they might sound something like this. So really positive reasons to think about this, to think about taking it on would be, I love this person so much. I respect to this person. I have a great relationship with this person. I really owe them a lot. And I feel all of this from a place of love for them and for me.

But what if the reasons that you’re thinking of have more to do with a sense of obligation or tradition, or maybe your reasons are coming from a place of guilt or shame or blame? You know, I’d like to recommend that you get some help making this decision. Go to a professional therapist or a professional life coach like me. That’s what I do. Or find a support group. If you’re considering taking on this responsibility because you’re worried about what people will think about your if you don’t agree to it, please get some help with this.

I want to also recommend a learning more about human giver syndrome, which is something I talk about a lot here on this podcast. Because it’s really likely that you are feeling pressure coming from this particular set of beliefs that says you ought to focus your life and your energy on making sure the people around you thrive. That’s human giver syndrome.

The next question then is: What about the other important relationships and situations in my life. Do you have a partner and what do they think? What about your kids, if you have kids? What about your job or your volunteer commitments? Could you still do those things if you want to? Remember that you matter in this decision. In every caregiver relationship, there are at least two people involved. There’s going to be the care receiver, the person you’re caring for, and there’s going to be you. So you make up at least half of that relationship and you are just as important as the care receiver.

So then the next question is, am I willing to ask for help? Can I picture myself as the leader of a care pool and that’s like a carpool. That’s what I call it, a care pool. Or you could think of it as a care team. What do I need to do to get better at asking for help and receiving help? Believe it or not, caregivers are not required to do all of the things all the time, even though that’s the message you’re going to get loud and clear from society and from the people around you. That’s human giver syndrome. And again, I highly recommend you learn more about it because just knowing that you’re going to be surrounded in it, and you’re going to be hearing about it all the time. It’s going to help you make better decisions when you realize that you’re coming from a place of what everybody else says you should do, because it’s what they think you should do.

Then the next question is what are all the options available to and for the person who needs care? Now, there’s just one caveat here. If the person that you could be caring for as a child, this list of available help would look different. So I really mean to ask this particular question about adults.

Many people automatically think that a family caregiver is the best or only option for helping an adult who needs care. But, you know, that’s just not always the case. There’s not even necessarily a reason it should be the first choice. So what are some of the other options? Well, there would be senior centers, meal delivery services, veteran services, Social workers, church communities, neighbors, handyman services, housekeeping services, part-time in-home care, somebody to drive the person around one or two days a week. And maybe other relatives living nearby could be a part of this too. I have a friend who is a patient care advocate. Maybe that’s an option for the person you might be caring for now or in the future. And all of these that I just mentioned would fall into that idea of creating a care pool.

So is that something that you could put in place now instead of taking on more of the caregiver responsibilities onto your own shoulder? Of course, there are also many other living options for adults. Maybe you could look at an apartment in a building with a maintenance staff and public transportation nearby. You could look at maybe a roommate or another kind of shared living arrangement or graduated care at an adult living facility or senior living. I’m not saying that any of these would be easy. There’s really nothing about this that is easy. I wish I could say that, but these are options you can consider.

And then here’s the last question that I’m going to ask. And in a lot of ways, this is the hardest one, because this question is, what about my future? The reason this one is so tough to ask yourself is that when we are in caregiver situation, we usually ignore our own futures entirely. And yeah, this is just another way that human giver syndrome shows up in our lives.

People think that we shouldn’t focus on ourselves when we become caregivers. But remember what I said at the beginning of this episode, about the phrase “person with caregiver responsibilities.” I like that phrase so much because it’s a reminder that we are individual people too. So, unless you are already financially stable and have everything figured out. And I mean, you know, maybe you’re retired with a good solid retirement plan in place, or maybe you’re independently wealthy, you know, unless you have those things figured out already, you are going to have a future where you will need things. And even if we’re just talking here about the most basic of needs, like food and a place to live and health insurance, those are still needs. You’re still going to have them in the future when you’re alive.

So if becoming a caregiver is going to mean that you have to hit the pause button on your future, is that something you can do? Is it something you’re willing to do?

What I’ve just demonstrated with this list of questions I know is that there is so much more to making an informed decision than just asking, should I become a family caregiver? And if you are already a caregiver, I really would like to encourage you to ask these questions about your situation, whatever it looks like right now. You’re going to learn a lot about yourself by asking these questions. And you’re going to get some really important information to help you make decisions that take into account your life and not just the life of the person that you could be caring for, or maybe are caring for right now.

Now, if asking these questions is making you feel a little bit selfish or kind of squeamish in any way. Or if you’re getting a feeling that you are not supposed to ask these questions or that these questions are taboo in any way. Well, I’ll tell you, I’m not at all surprised given what I know about the way human giver syndrome tells us, we should not think about ourselves at all.

So if you are struggling with these questions, Or if you’re struggling to even think about giving equal weight to your needs and wants and not just the needs of the care receiver. Well, please let me encourage you one more time here to get some help from a therapist or a life coach like me.

Or get started right now for free and I mean right away, for free, by joining my community to talk about boundaries and look for the link for that in the show notes.

And I just want to close today by saying you’re not alone. Whether you are right now in the process of making your decision or whether you’re a person with caregiver responsibilities already. I want you to know that I see you and I’m here for you.

Thank you so much for listening today. You can learn more about me and about all of this work at facilitator on fire dot net. And yes, that is facilitator on You know, I’m biased, but I think there’s a lot of really good stuff there. You’re going to find links to my book, a link to that online community about boundaries, and that is free. I really think you should go join. And you’re going to find links to learn more about human giver syndrome.

If you want almost daily doses of healthy support messages for family caregivers and sandwich family caregivers who want to dare to live their own lives too, please follow me on Instagram. There’s a link for that in the show notes.

If you liked this episode, please leave a review and think of two people you can tell about it. If they are new to podcasts, show them how to subscribe. Word of mouth is the best way to help podcasts grow, which will help more caregivers find their way here so they can get the help they need too.

I can’t wait to be here with you again in the next episode, From One Caregiver to Another.

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your guide

Kay Coughlin, CEO of Facilitator On Fire, is a business coach for the non-profit sector and social justice businesses. She is also well-known for being an advocate for family caregivers.

In every forum she can find, she shouts that it's OK for every human to earn a living, set and enforce boundaries around their bodies, thoughts, feelings and actions. You can join Kay's free, private online community to talk about boundaries here.

Kay also teaches about emotional labor, how to rest, and Human Giver Syndrome, and is the host of the "From One Caregiver to Another" podcast and author of "From One Caregiver to Another - Overcoming Your Emotional Grind."

Kay is well-known for her public speaking on boundaries and self-care. 

Facilitator on Fire is a subsidiary of Donor Relations Mindset LLC, which Kay founded in 2015. She lives with her husband and children in central Ohio, and is the primary caregiver for her own mother, who lives right next door. Kay can be found on LinkedIn and Instagram.

Copyright 2022. All rights reserved, Julia Kay Coughlin and Facilitator On Fire.

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