There came a time when Mom couldn’t take care of herself. In other words, she could no longer live on her own. So, the obvious choice was that she came to live with me.
By definition this made me her caregiver.
What I didn’t realize is that it made me much more than that. It made me lonely, it made me depressed, it made me discouraged, it made me frustrated, and it made me lose my sense of freedom.
If you had told me that this was part of caregiving, I might have thought twice.
There’s an old saying I’ve often smiled at. Now it’s become my truth…
There are only two times in your life when you get to know someone:
Once is when you rent to them, and the other is when you live with them.
Fortunately, before I even thought about bringing Mom home to live with me, I had my exit strategy in place.
I set my limits in concrete. Because I was a single mom still raising three children I had to have these limits because I had to continue to raise them with a happy, encouraging, supportive environment.
As the years went by, I saw my mom start to degrade my children. I saw her say abusive words to me which she never would have done before. I saw the loving caring considerate mom turn into someone I didn’t know, and I certainly didn’t want to be around anymore.
The wisdom of setting up plans…
Fortunately, I had reached out to my sister and told her that before I took Mom I had certain rules in place – set in concrete. Things that I could not live with and they were in line with self-preservation and the protection of my children that I needed to consider.
I had spent too many years in therapy to undo all the work I had done to learn how to express myself in a healthy manner after being raised in a rather dysfunctional family.
So one day I was talking to my sister and telling her about Mom and how she was acting toward us. And she reminded me of my rules I had set forth and said it was time for Mom to find a better environment more suitable for her as well as for me.
I didn’t get it right at first…we rarely do…
To make a long story short and we’ll talk about it someday, I placed mom in three different independent living communities until we finally found the right one for her. Where she could be happy again, where she enjoyed the people she was around and her spirits rose. She was delighted to see me when I could visit, which was not very often as I moved her across the country to be closer to my sister. But my sister, had her own rules, too and scheduled to visit our mom every Wednesday afternoon and evening. My sister had her own rules on self-preservation.
As a physician assistant, I will talk with my patients and their caregivers about the choices they have made…to do nothing or try something and see how it works.
Then try something again until they figure out what works for them.
As we delve into the rules we will set for ourselves, some caregivers and patients agree to set rules and others find rules to be “cold”.
Their reason is…“I could never do that to my mom.”
But their truth is…”I can’t help myself.”
And I understand that….choice is hard.
So in conclusion, what I have seen from the caregivers I work with in my practice is that they forget to set the rules first. The rules that hold us accountable to ourselves first. The rules that remind us that we cannot take care of others unless we take care of ourselves first. The rules that have to be set ahead of time before our emotions fog our thinking like a lost ship navigating a hurricane.
How we can protect ourselves…
How will you protect yourself? Will you seek therapy? Will you talk with a friend who’s been through what you are going through? Will you find the courage to act? Will you complain over and over and over again about the same problem? Will you give yourself three chances and then you’re done?
Tell a family member, friend or therapist what your guidelines and rules are. Have them hold you accountable.
When those rules can no longer be flexible, modified or re-written in an acceptable manner to protect your sanity, then it’s time for Mom to move once again, and for you:
It’s time to move back a life you love.