How To Navigate Caregiving When Your Situation Isn’t The Usual Caregiver/Caree Relationship
While most caregivers are caring for an aging parent or spouse, there are many caregivers who are caring for a child with special needs or health issues, a sibling or a same-sex partner. There are also many male caregivers who provide care for a loved one. While these caregivers aren’t who you typically see representing caregivers, they are working just as hard as other caregivers and experiencing the same struggles – sometimes more.
Relationship Challenges for Non-Typical Caregivers
Relationship challenges happen in all caregiving relationships. It isn’t easy for anyone to give up their independence and let someone step in to do things they used to do for themselves (or should be able to do for themselves).
That being said, we all have an expectation that we may need assistance when we are older. If your caree is young, it may be difficult for them to accept the fact that they need a caregiver, particularly if they were once healthy. Even for someone who has always had health challenges, they can get frustrated with their lot in life when they see their contemporaries living a different life.
Regardless of how a person came to need caregiving assistance, it is extremely difficult to live in a body that isn’t doing what it is supposed to do. We all take our health for granted. Our body and mind are supposed to work a specific way. When they don’t, it can be frustrating or depressing.
As a result, they may take their aggression out on the closest target – their caregiver. They may resent their caregiver, or in the parent/child situation, blame their parent for their lot in life.
Being a caregiver to someone who resents their situation or takes out their anger on a caregiver is hard (to put it mildly). If you are in this situation, it can be frustrating, particularly if you don’t have a lot of back up to give you a break. Here are some tips to handle negative behavior:
- Build a support network and use it. Just because you aren’t in a traditional caregiving relationship doesn’t mean you can’t build a caregiving team to help you. If you are caring for a child, do you have a sibling who can give you a break? If you are caring for a same-sex partner, do you have a friend or family member (for either of you) who can give you a break? If you are caring for a sibling, do you have another sibling, cousin or friend who can support you? Don’t be embarrassed to ask for help. People who love you and/or your loved one will be happy to help when they know you are struggling.
- Don’t become a punching bag. Easier said than done, I know. It is absolutely acceptable for your caree to vent and express frustration, but it isn’t OK for him/her to treat you poorly as a result. Use these tips for handling a caree’s bad day to give yourself some breathing room.
- Work together to find a new normal. If your caree was a previously healthy person who has become injured or ill, it can be difficult for both of you to accept your new normal. Rather than focusing on what used to be, work together to find a new way of relating to each other.
Support for Non-Typical Caregivers
There are many support groups out there for traditional caregivers (adult children or spouses). Non-typical caregivers may feel uncomfortable participating in those groups or not feel welcome, which can be isolating. Even if you started out with many friends and family, your caregiving duties probably make connecting with others difficult, which also leads to loneliness.
If you’re struggling with loneliness or connecting with people who understand what you are going through, consider these caregiver support options:
- Look for support groups geared toward other caregivers like you. If you are caring for someone with a specific condition, try to find a support group for people with that condition. Chances are, you’ll be able to relate to each other even if you aren’t exactly the same. If you don’t know where to start, ask your loved one’s doctor for support groups, check your local hospitals and senior centers.
- If you live in a town that doesn’t have many resources, look online. You’ll be able to find more options online since you won’t be relegated to people who live in your town. You can search for groups on Facebook or look for people who hashtag your situation on Twitter. You can also search for online support groups and your circumstance to see if anything comes up.
- Reach out to your own network. If you are always canceling plans because of caregiving duties, your friends or family may think that you are too busy for them. While that may be true, they may not realize that you miss them and still want to connect with them. Tell them. People aren’t mind readers. Don’t expect your loved ones to know that you are lonely and miss them.
- Make new friends. Maybe your friends weren’t as good friends as you thought or you’ve outgrown your current friends. Maybe caregiving takes up a lot of time leaving little time for others. Maybe you are so people’d out at the end of the day that you can’t fathom making small talk. Regardless of the situation, it is important to your well-being to have social connections. Establish connections with others so that you have an outlet for your social needs. Find people with similar interests that don’t require too much maintenance. For example, join a monthly book club to spend time with others once a month or take a class that meets semi-regularly. You’ll have social interaction but it won’t be too draining.
Caregiving is a challenging role for anyone. If you’re in a non-traditional caregiving relationship, there can be extra challenges. However, much of the advice out there for caregivers can be tailored to your particular situation. You may need to be creative in how you interpret the information, but with a little creativity, you can alter information to fit your needs.
No matter how frustrating your situation can be, or how much your caree resents your role, remember that you are giving someone you love a gift by being their caregiver. It can be hard to focus on the positives when your caree is difficult, but remember: you are a brave, loving person who is selflessly sharing your love and talent with your caree.