Monday, 12 August 2013

Guest Post: 4 Tips on How Caregivers Can Keep Their Family Relationships Intact

4 Tips to Help You Reduce the Impact of Caregiving on your Relationships

Becoming a caregiver can be one of the most impactful changes that can occur in a person’s life.  Caregiving is not a change that only affects the relationship between you and the person you are caring for, it is one that may affect all of the relationships in your life that are important to you.  This may include your relationship with your significant other, with children, friends, relatives, siblings and even with your employer.  One of the most influential factors in maintaining and improving your relationships as a caregiver is communication. 

1 - Communicate Through Family Meetings

Communication between family members is important for helping everyone to understand the changing role of the primary caregiver and the impact it will have on life as they know it.  Family meetings are a great way to communicate what will happen, set expectations, enlist support, identify problems, and explore solutions.  This may also be a good time to brainstorm on ideas of how to best help the person in need, how to collaborate and how to work as a team to provide caregiving duties.  Use a family meeting to explain to children what will be happening and to discuss adjustments that will impact their lives so they may be more prepared for what may occur.

The relationship between the caregiver and their child/children may be impacted by caregiving responsibilities, as there may not be as much time for the kids as there used to be.  The decrease in quality time with the children can negatively impact the bonding and attachment building that parents and children need with each other.

Children may also be affected as they may be asked to help and participate in caregiving activities.  They may have to change their behavior to accommodate the person needing care, especially if the aging or ill relative has moved into the family home.  For some, this can be disruptive to children as it may not be appropriate for them to have the burden of being responsible at a young age.  Children need the opportunity to simply be children.

It is important to communicate to children frequently about caregiving and reaffirm their place in the life of the caregiver.  Family meetings can be planned as often as is necessary to support one another and ensure that feelings are being validated and that everyone continues to be on the same page.

2 - Prioritize Communication with Your Spouse

It is very common for marriages to be negatively affected by caregiving roles.  The existence of communication between spouses can often make or break a relationship.  Caregiving often results in less time for spouses to spend together, to talk with each other and enjoy one another’s company.  The attachment between spouses can be reduced and many times spouses become resentful that the caregiving spouse may be expending more of their energy on caregiving, rather than on the marriage or the family.  Married couples with caregiving roles can benefit from planning time alone with their spouse to maintain emotional and romantic attachments to one another.  It is important to keep intimacy and fun in the marriage, to facilitate a strong and supportive marriage during the caregiving process.

Many times there is increased strain on the relationship between couples as their parental roles change as a result of caregiving.  The primary caregiver may increasingly spend more resources on caring for someone outside of the immediate family, resulting in an imbalance of parental responsibilities for the other parent.  The other parent must do more to care for the kids and take on more responsibility for them.  The imbalance can result in more stress for the other parent and increasingly resentful feelings towards the caregiving spouse, if they do not communicate with each other about the situation and their needs.

One of the most common strains on a marriage is when a family member requiring assistance moves into the caregiver’s home.  Spontaneity enjoyed by married couples is diminished. Schedules must be adhered to or plans made in advance that takes into consideration the person needing care.  A sense of privacy is lost for couples, as well as respite from caregiving as the person is always there.  The entire family is affected and the family can no longer enjoy the lifestyle that they had before.

Spouses that focus on communicating with each other can often maintain their marriage through these challenges that caregiving can create.  Caregivers and partners of caregivers that discuss their feelings with each other, often experience less stress and frustration with one another. Voicing needs and concerns as well as hearing the same from the other spouse in return, can assist couples to maintain bonds and help each other to work through issues and fears together.

3 - Inform your Employer

A caregiver that is working may find it difficult to maintain the same standard of performance in their job prior to taking on caregiving duties.  Leaving work unexpectedly or for scheduled medical appointments to care for someone, and overall fatigue at work, can take its toll on the relationship between the caregiver and their employer. 

For some people, caregiving roles are not only physical and emotional, but they can be financial as well.  Paying for medical bills of the person in need, contributing towards food and housing and other expenses, is not uncommon.  Therefore, it may be important to maintain a good working relationship with your employer during the time that you have caregiving responsibilities.
Communicating with your employer and explaining your situation may help your employer to understand and possibly accommodate your needs to be a caregiver, while preserving your job.  Occasionally employers will work with an employee to create a more flexible schedule that provides you the time that you need for caregiving, and yet is still productive for the employer as well.  They may have the ability to implement a remote work situation allowing you to work from home, or different working hours to fit your schedule.  The important thing is to communicate with your employer and allow them the opportunity to work with you, if possible, on your situation.

4 - Seek Support

It is equally important that caregivers take care of themselves and their personal needs just as much as the person for which they are caring. This can be in the form of engaging in hobbies and leisure activities, but can also be in the form of physical and emotional support.  Consider looking into physical support in the form of respite care.  Research options for care, so that you and your family can have a break from caregiving if necessary.  There are organizations that provide care on a temporary basis, allowing you to rest and rejuvenate, so that you can return to caregiving with confidence. 

Also, seek support groups in your area, as it is sometimes helpful to communicate socially and hear the stories of others who have experienced similar situations to what you may be undergoing as a caregiver.  Hearing ideas from fellow caregivers and realizing that you are not alone may be all you need to push onward. 

For relationships to be successful or repaired, it is essential to communicate, especially in the face of change and in managing the challenges that caregiving brings.  Promoting communication in all areas may ultimately help you and your family to obtain successful relationships in your caregiving journey.

Lauren Hill writes for LiftCaregiving, a Richmond, VA company offering support for caregivers.  You can follow Lauren on Google+ and her blog.

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