The post below is by Lisa Smith, the mother of seven children, two with special needs. Her son Tate has autism. Lisa blogs about her experiences and can be found on Facebook at Quirks and Chaos or at quirks-and-chaos.blogspot.com. This post originally appeared on Lisa's blog here.
November is National Family Caregivers Month. My 15-year-old son Tate has autism and my youngest daughter has special needs as well. Currently, I am also helping to care for my elderly parents.
I was asked to write a post about being a caregiver. I took a stab at it and read it back to myself. I had written an essay that sounded like I was having a pity party about the all the time my kids’ disabilities have stolen from me. So, I tried again. The second attempt was an essay comparing the amount of time and energy I spent raising my typically developing children to the amount of time and energy it is taking to raise my special needs children. It really did not reflect the way I feel about being a caregiver at all. My third attempt was also sent to the trash bin.
It occurred to me then: I had been trying to write about the hardships of being a caregiver. There is no doubt it is hard. Everyone knows that. But what good caregiver dwells on all the negatives involved? Did my own parents keep track of all the times I woke them at night? Or vomited in my bed? Did they begrudge the money they spent on my education? Of course not. Good parents are not keeping score of all the difficulties they have with their child, or the sacrifices they make.
A good caregiver is a good one because he does the things he needs to do willingly. So I made a list. I made a list of the things that help me to be the best caregiver I can be in hopes that it might encourage others to be the best caregiver they can be.
I laugh when things are funny, and they often are. There have been times I have laughed to keep from crying. Remember to laugh. A sense of humor can make all the difference.
It’s hard not to be happy when I have a smile on my face, and it is hard to become angry or be unkind when I am smiling. A smile can totally change another person's response too.
Just like smiling, it is so hard to be anything but happy when I am singing. Music is such a valuable tool.
If laughing, smiling, and singing are not going to work today, a good cry might. But if you find yourself crying often and unable to cope, talk to a professional.
Find someone who will listen. Online support groups can be helpful when no one is physically close. I blog and have built my own sort of support group of followers who help me far more than I help them.
6 Find a cheerleader.
I have many cheerleaders. Some of them are part of my physical family and some are part of my church family. Some are online friends. Do not go to discouragers for advice or for cheering up. Do not go to the support groups that mostly talk about the hardships and the negatives when you are in need of encouragement. Surround yourself with positive people.
7 Set goals, but set reasonable ones.
It is helpful to have short-term goals. Some of my goals are very small and easily achieved in a day's time, while others might take a few days. It might even help to write goals down and be able to cross them off as they are completed.
8 Prepare yourself.
It is much easier to prevent problems before they develop, than to fix them after they occur. I try to anticipate the things that might go wrong, and put a plan in place for the “just in cases”. When it is time for appointments or meetings, go prepared. Make and take a list of questions and concerns.
9 Control yourself.
I cannot control others, but I can control myself and how I react to others. Remember that you are responsible for you. Do not make matters worse by speaking in anger, or saying something you may later regret. There will be times when those around you who you had hoped would help, will not. There may be times when you feel resentful, if not because your child is disabled or your elderly parents are sick, then because the ones you thought you could count on to help, do not. But the kids still have to be fed, the sick still need to be looked after, and the trash still needs hauled out to the curb. It is up to you. You cannot control those around you, but you can control yourself.
10 Dismiss yourself.
Sometimes I need a few minutes to regroup. When everything around you seems to be falling apart, take a deep breath, count to ten, say a prayer, bite your tongue, or walk away.
11 Forgive yourself.
I make mistakes. I make a huge mess of things sometimes, and you will too. Nobody is perfect. ♫ Let it go. Let it go.
12 Do not lie to yourself.
Face your truths. Dwelling on the things you wish you could change will only make you miserable. Also, pretending problems are not really there does not work. Roll up your sleeves and do what you can to make things better. The grass is not really greener next door. That neighbor or friend who seems to have the perfect life with the perfect kids and a pocket full of money, has his own struggles too.
13 Reward yourself.
Whether it is something small like a soda, or something more substantial like a night out, I find that it helps if I have something tangible to look forward to at the end of the day or at the end of the week.
I'm not an expert. I have made plenty of mistakes, but these are the things that help me to do what I do best. Perhaps these things could help you to be the best caregiver you can be too.
Writing this has helped me to remember that being a caregiver is a privilege and a worthwhile and fulfilling job.
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