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Caring for Both Parents

Would Balancing Dinner Plates be Easier Than Juggling Mom or Dad?

Experienced servers manoeuvre deftly through a sea of restaurant tables each evening, often carrying several loaded plates at a time. Doing this requires skill, dexterity and balance but, thanks to good training and a careful demeanor, servers seldom drop anything or leave a nasty mess to clean up. Caregivers can face a similar need to carefully balance whatever they’re carrying. Sure, they are not transporting diners’ steak dinners, but adult sons and daughters are often in a position to easily “trip up” as they simultaneously handle a variety of delicate tasks.

Job, spouse, kids
In addition to caring for their own aging parents, caregivers can have any number of other people and responsibilities requiring their time and attention including their own children, careers, societal obligations (perhaps as a board member for a non-profit association), friendships, businesses, and personal interests and hobbies. Trying to do too much often proves ineffective. Like our restaurant servers, a caregiver who is carrying too much might lose focus and inadvertently drop one (or more) things. But, when done in the right way, caregiving can be a pleasure both to you, and to the person you’re caring for. Being calm and relaxed and taking the time each day to really connect can boost your mood, reduce stress and trigger biological changes that improve your physical health.Here are a few ideas for finding that all-important balance that you need to successfully care for another person.

Be realistic
There are only 24 hours in a day and you need around eight of them for sleep. Depending on your circumstances, you might have a job, children and a spouse who deserve to and will take up a healthy chunk of your time. Take a look at each week and try and make a sensible plan that gets you to closer to your objectives in each area. It’s best to try to leave a little flex in your plans for that inevitable caregiving or childcare crisis so that you feel like you’re in control.

Ask for and accept help
You might feel obligated to “do it all” because you know your spouse or your parent best. But please don’t feel embarrassed when you need help. This is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it’s a sign of strength and good organization. Find ways to engage siblings, friends, neighbours and community supports to lighten your load.

Find and use resources wisely
Professional help does come at a cost, but the price can be worth it. Once you get in the groove and find a schedule that meets everyone’s needs, hiring a professional caregiver or cleaner for support can be a huge stress reliever. When you start your “hiring” journey, make sure you check references. Ask if staff are bonded. Consider your loved one’s personality and needs to ensure the best fit and, if funds are an issue, consider engaging a professional for just one or two days a week.

Form a caregiving cooperative
You won’t have to look too far to find other caregivers even living on your own block or working for the same company. Like you might have done with childcare, share resources. Shopping for two seniors often takes the same time as shopping for one. Share trips to the pharmacy for staples or collections. Consider trying to make your loved ones’ appointments for the same or consecutive timeslots. Keeping an eye on a neighbour’s mom while your neighbour gets her hair done or works an extra shift is often doable. And, it’ll get you an IOU for the next time you need a break.

Accept your feelings
Caregiving can trigger a host of difficult emotions. Perhaps you feel angry or guilty. Are you worried about what comes next? Do you resent the time they need, or simply feel sad about your loved ones? Whatever your feelings, it is important to accept them and find the space to talk about them in an appropriate environment.

Talk about it
Being part of a chat or support group gives you the chance to share and learn from others in the same boat. Rather than meeting in person, you might prefer the anonymity and time commitment of an online support group. (Search: Online support groups for caregivers.) Find a mentor. Seek out another current or previous caregiver to meet with, talk to on the telephone or send a quick email/text message to when you need a kind word or morale boost.

Focus on the person
Even if the person you’re caring for can no longer communicate verbally, it’s important to take a short time to focus fully on him or her. Avoid all distractions (e.g., the television, cell phone and computer), make eye contact if possible, hold the person’s hand or stroke his or her cheek, and talk in a calm, reassuring tone of voice. When you connect in this way, you’ll feel better too.

Check in with yourself
Do things with others and nurture close relationships that have someone to laugh with and will keep you going when times get tough, and so that you don’t become isolated. Eat well to help you get through those busy days, and try to get moving even when you’re tired. Exercising for just 30 minutes three times a week will help to relieve stress and boost your feel-good hormones.

Keep up your own healthcare
Go to the doctor and dentist on schedule, and keep up with your own prescriptions and treatments. Resist the temptation to turn to alcohol or drugs to escape it’s best to deal with problems head on with a clear mind. If feelings of depression or anxiety persist, seek professional help.

Take time out
Last but not least, take time out each day to relax, feed your spirit and connect with your own needs. After all, as the saying goes, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

Rick Lauber is the author of the Caregiver’s Guide for Canadians. You can find more information at

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