Advocating For Yourself, The Caregiver, At Home
Inside are three, free ways to have your own back as The Caregiver.
Advocating for yourself is hard. It’s likely you’ve learned to advocate for yourself at different times and in different situations. If you were passed over for a promotion perhaps you learned to fight for your career by building a stronger professional network. In relationships you learned to advocate by knowing your value or communicating boundaries. Have you considered how you can advocate for yourself as a caregiver? Here are three free, but not always easy, ways you can advocate for yourself.
1. Give Up Control
Caregivers have very little control. You can influence. But, you cannot control. You know this especially if you have a family member with dementia who has reached the I-don’t-want-to-shower stage. The temptation is to force them to shower by laying down rules like, “You have to take a shower 3 times a week!” In your mind this may feel right and logical; others may agree. However, trying to control everything another person does or does not do adds more stress to your life. Often, the rules you make are not always best for the person you’re trying to control…er…help. So stop.
Instead, when you feel the stress of forcing people or situations to go the way you think they should, stop. Take a breath. Ask yourself, “What is really important?” Is the shower the most important thing? Does “clean” have to happen in a shower? Can it happen with personal aide products? Is the shower more important than your loved one feeling connected and supported? Most likely, the answer is no. When your loved one feels connected and supported they are more likely to comply. When you try to control everything you usually end up alienating yourself which ultimately puts more stress on you.
2. Stop Comparing
Comparison is tricky. When you see someone else’s success it can prompt you to look at your situation differently. To continue the shower scenario... Perhaps you are scrolling through Facebook and you see someone in one of the Dementia Caregiving Groups showing how they had Shower Success! by making the shower more inviting for their loved one. You see a picture that shows their bathroom lit with candles and in the corner there is a small electric heater warming the bathroom so mom does not get cold and there is a beautiful teak shower chair for her to sit on. Seeing this photo sparks a memory of your mom’s love of lavender body wash and you buy some which makes showering more pleasurable for her. This is not comparing. It is an example of being open to learning from other people.
The dark side of comparison occurs when you start to say things like, “Why is it always harder for me?” or, “My friend can always get her mom to eat!” When you see yourself as less than or inferior to someone else, you will then feel inferior and then you will act inferior.
3. Go Neutral
Let’s take the shower example one step further. The minute you hear yourself saying things like, “I can never get my mom to take a shower!” or, “She always makes things so hard,” stop yourself. Notice your language. Do you see how inflammatory it is? Instead of going down the dark road of comparison, change your language and go neutral. Instead say, “Mom is not showering today.” Stop the sentence there. Take all the heat and comparison out of your words until you get to just the bare facts. “Mom did not shower today.”
When you look at things through this lens you are not the problem. Your mom is not the problem. There is no problem. There is only the fact that your mom did not shower today. Taking the heat and comparison out of your words is a great way to advocate for yourself because it removes stress from the situation. Problems come when you tell yourself a story around the situation. My mom did not shower so people will think I am a bad caregiver. If you are worried about what other people will think, you are comparing. Stop. Take the heat out of the words. Go neutral.
As a caregiver, remind yourself of what Brene Brown says, “If people aren’t in the arena and they haven’t gotten their butt kicked, you’re not interested in what they have to say or what they think about you.” People who have gone through the caregiving journey or are in the caregiving arena today know how hard it is. They know what long days and nights are like. They do not care that your mom did not shower today. They have your back. Now it is time for you to have your own back.