As a caregiver, it can be difficult to maintain relationships outside of the person(s) you’re caring for. Even that relationship can become strained by the dynamics and expectations of “taking care.” The same is true of friendships, romantic relationships, and relationships with your family.
Caregiving changes your identity and leads to a fundamental shift in the underlying assumptions about your role in any relationship. Adjusting to that is a challenge; but if both people value the relationship — not for what it provides, but for its inherent worth — then you will succeed.
The reality is, having a child with a chronic condition or disability is hard. In some cases, it requires round-the-clock care; and unfortunately, many relationships dissolve in the face of this isolating responsibility. Just remember, successful relationship-ing, so to speak, is not about perfection; it’s about resilience.
If you want to start nurturing those relationships that may have suffered since you became a caregiver, start here:
This is always a good place to begin. Regardless of the relationship (spouse, friend, child, etc.), it helps to be honest about a few things: First of all, things will never go back to “normal.” Becoming a caregiver is a paradigm shift. Second, there will be setbacks — plans you have to cancel, days when you just can’t. Third, you love this person. You wouldn’t be having this conversation if you didn’t. Make sure they know that they’re a priority — your priorities just look a little different these days. And if this is going to work, they need to know that they’ll have to put in the effort, and some days, that effort will look like giving you time and space.
Your calendar is your best friend, don’t neglect it. Schedule regular date nights or activities inside or outside of the home. Heck, schedule a full six months out if you need to. Planning in advance will make a world of difference, and frankly, it’s necessary. This is hard, especially if your friendship with this person was based on spur of the moment plans and spontaneous phone calls. Let them know upfront during one of many honest conversations that you are someone who has to plan in advance.
There will be plans you have to cancel. Forgive yourself now, preemptively, and again in the moment for good measure. You’re doing your best, but you can’t plan for curveballs or surprises — things are going to come up that are out of your control. Or, maybe you’re not at your best when the day of your plans rolls around. That’s OK, too! Forgive yourself for canceling. To say you have a lot on your plate is an understatement.
Self-care can help you foster a healthier relationship with yourself and others, but it might not look the same for you as it does for everyone else. The most important thing is that the idea of self-care doesn’t turn into one more expectation you feel like you’re failing to meet. For some, it might look like two quiet minutes alone on the porch. For others, it might be a night away. Meet yourself wherever you are. Self-care may not solve your problems, but it can help refill your cup so you’re better equipped to meet them.
Therapy or counseling can help you cope with medical trauma and maintain healthy relationships. Many parents and caregivers have been through intense, traumatic experiences, often more than once, and that takes a toll. Whether you’re participating in family therapy, where therapists act as mediators, or seeing someone on your own, it’s helpful to bring on a mental health professional as a member of your team. Your mindset and well-being are connected with your physical health and overall happiness, all of which affects your ability to provide care and stay connected with others.
Being a caregiver can be scary and overwhelming at times. Some days you may fancy yourself Wonder Woman or Superman while other days you feel helpless. Just remember, you need support, too. You deserve healthy relationships and all that comes with them.
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