I had a client, Martha, who cared for her mom as she raised her three young children. Martha moved her mom into her home just as her oldest started school and continued to provide care for another 10 years. During that decade of caregiving, Martha longed to spend time with her children and her husband but dreaded excluding her mom who suffered from Alzheimer's. So, the solution became that Martha simply stopped any activity that didn't involve her mom. And, that meant the family stopped enjoying a life outside of the home and caregiving.
So much changes when caregiving moves in, including how you socialize as a family. Sometimes, during a caregiving experience, guilt is the only trip we take. Guilt is insidious; it takes away from the time we could have spent with our spouse and children. Guilt is also misleading; it lures you into believing that you are wrong for wanting time with only your spouse and children. It's right to enjoy time with, and time away from, your caree because that's how you keep a healthy dynamic during caregiving.
In this post, I'll share ideas on how you can still spend time with your family when your caree lives with you. In a future post, I'll share ideas on how to make time for your family when you split your time between your home and your caree's house.
- Break down your week, creating a plan that includes time spent with each family member, including your caree, as well as time spent as a family. Martha felt she gave her kids and her marriage the short end of the stick while she caved to guilt when thinking about not spending time with her mom. By organizing her time and listing the time spent with each family member, Martha could see that she did spend time with everyone. The kids looked forward to their one-on-one time with their mom and their parents. Martha's husband appreciated that they no longer battled about spending time away from the kids and their caree.
- In the schedule, include time spent on simple activities, like reading together, and events like going out to dinner. Focus on creating a meaningful connection, whether you spend five minutes or a few hours together. Commit to the connection by staying present in that moment, letting go of thinking (and worrying about) what's next on your list. Make this moment your priority. In addition, take advantage of time together that naturally happens because of your day's schedule. If you're driving your son to his soccer practice, use that time together in the car to share and catch up.
- Allow each family member the option of determining how to spend time together. For instance, Martha's son liked going out for ice cream with his parents. Her teenage daughter liked to go shopping. And her mom enjoyed doing puzzles. When you give a choice, you also give control. When you take control, you can give control.
- In addition, assign each family member time to spend with your caree, even if only for 10 minutes. For instance, Martha's youngest was scheduled to update her grandmother with "family news" (which sometimes felt more like gossip) at 7 p.m. each evening.
- Map out the plan on a calendar, scheduling in the time just like appointments. You can use a calendar or white board posted in the kitchen to keep everyone up-to-date.
- Schedule weekly family meetings, which included your caree, as appropriate, during which you discuss the calendar and the schedule. The meeting involves everyone in the schedule which demonstrates that everyone is part of the schedule. Involving everyone in a discussion helped Martha cope with the guilt. And she no longer had to feel like she had to hide time spent away from her mom. The open dialogue meant she no longer had to cower out of the house.
- Develop responses you can use when you spend time with your family and without her caree. A response can be something like, "I'm going out for dinner with George and the kids tonight, Mom. Judy will be here to give you dinner, watch your favorite movie with you and get you into bed. I'm excited to be with you tomorrow and share about our evening. Thank you so much for your help and support."
- Martha learned to let everyone have their reaction to the schedule. For instance, if one of the kids complained about who got what when on the schedule, Martha listened to the complaints, shared her perspective and then let it go. She used the same technique with her mom. If her mom made a negative comment about not having enough time together, Martha listened, shared her perspective and either let it go or made an adjustment to the schedule. In essence, she stopped taking the feedback personally. Once she stopped taking the comments personally, she no longer became an easy pawn to manipulate.
- Take photos during each family event so that everyone can enjoy the outing, even if they weren't part of the outing. Ask each family member to give a recap of their week's outing or special time together during the family meeting.
- Ask for suggestions from family members as to outings that can happen without leaving the house. When do you have movie night? Game night? Creating rituals that you enjoy as a family will deepen your bonds.
Spending time with your family doesn't just happen. You have to make it happen. You can do it in a way that brings everyone together even when you're apart.
Denise launched CareGiving.com, the first website to add online caregiving support groups, daily caregiving chats and blogs written by family caregivers, in 1996. A certified life coach, Denise helps family caregivers and former family caregivers find their best selves during one of their life's worst times. Denise also hosts a Twitter chat for family caregivers (#carechat) every Tuesday at 1 p.m. ET. Her books, including The Caregiving Years, Six Stages to a Meaningful Journey, and Take Comfort, Reflections of Hope for Caregivers, provide insights, inspirations and information to those who care for family members.