Raising a child with a chronic illness or special need, it’s easy to keep our nose so to the grindstone that we don’t notice what is going on around us. That became painfully apparent to me recently when I was speaking with someone about the stress they face with an elderly parent.
“Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.” (James 1:27, NLT)
I too am in that unenviable phase of life, the sandwich generation, raising children while still facing the concerns of an aging, disabled parent. While many of the skills we learn raising our remarkable kids are transferable to serving an elderly parent, we have even more in common with other senior caregivers than we realize. Here are just a few of the similarities I discussed in that recent conversation:
- Caregivers seem to be in a heightened state of alert, especially when there is a hospitalization. This leaves them wondering how and if they can make any plans apart from the one for whom they are caring. For instance, that guardian may be extremely nervous about taking a vacation or business trip for fear of being too far in an emergency. They seem to constantly be “waiting for the other shoe to drop.”
- Caregivers feel great ambivalence. While they deeply love the one for whom they care, the unrelenting duty, the disproportionate amount of life taken up by those medical appointments, care conferences, coordination of services, medication runs, and insurance battles can create resentment. Yet, when that resentment creeps in, an almost immediate feeling of guilt can follow. There is a longing to help, yet a deep need for the caregiver to have a life of their own as well.
- Caregivers face mental exhaustion from the overabundance of information. Keeping stringent records, speaking with medical professionals, and making certain all of the ancillary therapies and supplies are coordinated is no easy feat. Having to be mentally “on,” alert, and discerning for an extended period of time with a loved one who is in a critical or acute medical situation can really take a toll. There is an incredible need to mentally unwind from such intense input.
Of course, there are so many other commonalities between those who are caring for the elderly and those who are caring for a high needs child. The point is to realize those similarities exist. In doing so, you may find that there are resources offered to elder-caregivers that have cross-application to raising your child. It should also increase your compassion for those you see walking through that difficult phase of life. And uniting in commitment to good self-care and refreshment is a must.
Those of us who are caregivers have many cares ourselves. Yet, that mutual awareness and support can be so incredibly edifying on the journey.