Weekly column

Every time I look for articles and inspiration about caregiving, I am warned about the importance of self-care, especially for women. We are told to eat right, exercise, get more sleep and do the things you want to do. As a caregiver myself, I find myself staying awake at night worrying about what happens if I don’t get enough sleep, eat right, or make time for myself – which only leads to more sleep deprivation.

The job of taking care of a spouse or an aging parent can be a total life-changer. It takes your money, your time, your ability to work, your friends, your relationships, your ability to do the things that you love or to even take a nap. It has me reevaluating telling caregivers, “don’t forget self-care.” It becomes another impossible standard that we set up for ourselves in which we’re bound to fail.

Caregivers are overwhelmed, doing a lot of hard work all by themselves. It’s easy for all of us to buy into the notion that this is how it’s supposed to be. You better pull yourself up by your bootstraps because that’s all you’ve got. But let’s consider an alternative. What would it be like if we could take care of each other?

There is an idea. What if we could become that community that provides support through meeting places and groups where we can connect with other daughters (and sons and spouses). A place where we can share financial support for adult day care and the expensive in-home care? What about a place where we can educate employers on what their middle aged work force is going through, so that employers could try to and assess how they can be part of the solution rather than being part of the problem? Those are lofty goals for a community. Some of these resources do exist in the form of local support groups (be sure to contact our office if you are interested in that information). But the truth is, getting to them can be a real challenge, which again, can just add to our stress.

So, the next time you feel like a failure, just remember: you’re doing a job that a strong social and community-based fabric should support. And instead of feeling like a failure, maybe just get a little mad that you’re doing it all alone. Rather than putting pressure on ourselves to take a break we can’t take, how about if we all just get really good at practicing extreme imperfection. Could this be the ultimate act of self-care? In other words, we’re wading through the overwhelming everyday challenges, but we’re getting it done. We are creating better lives for the people we love – despite the fatigue, despite the insecurities and long to-do lists. But, we don’t retreat. And, this is no small thing. This is something big. Stop focusing on all of the things you need to “do better” and start celebrating the great and important job you are doing. Once we are able to do that, we can start enjoying the time we have just being with our loved one and knowing that we are doing the right thing – whatever that may be.

For more information on this and other topics of interest and resources available to caregivers, please call the Butler County Department on Aging at 775-0500.