In my last post, I ranted a bit about the perceived invisibility of men in caregiving discussions. This time, I want to turn that camera around and take a look at how men can sometimes be their own worst enemies when taking on a caregiving role. The urge many of us have to step in, analyze and act can make the experience much more difficult than it needs to be (believe me, I learned the hard way). Over time, I developed this four-point checklist to help myself get past the urge to make things better and to enjoy the time I had with my father as much as I possibly could.
- You can’t solve this. Cutting back on the salt you add when making your father’s dinner, or switching out the cookies in mom’s cupboard to a sugar-free variety can help moderate the symptoms of congestive heart failure or Type 2 diabetes, but those underlying diseases still will exist. Think in terms of slowing a decline, not stopping it, and you won’t feel like you’ve failed when bad medical news arrives.
- Forget about (your) logic. When you’ve shuttled a parent from cardiologist to pulmonologist to kidney doctor all in the same week, while also attempting to manage the low-salt/low-sugar diet mentioned above, and then having said parent walk in the door enthusing about the beer-battered Polish sausage lunch he’s just enjoyed (I’m not exaggerating — it’s happened to me) can create its own blood pressure problems for you as caregiver. It’s important to remember that this isn’t about you. Maybe by doing the work you’re doing, you’re allowing your loved one to really enjoy what pleasures they have left just a little bit longer.
- It’s not all about doing — sometimes it’s just about being. For some men, it can be difficult to just sit and be with an ailing spouse or parent, but, often, that’s how you can make the most impact. Simply listening, without judgment or feeling a need to jump up and act, can be a tremendous gift to loved ones who just want to share how sad or frustrated they feel about their lives at that moment.
- Talking isn’t just for women. Sadness, frustration, guilt, anger and, yes, even humor, are all a part of taking care of someone we love, and sometimes those emotions just need to come out. Whether it’s an understanding sibling, a group of close golfing buddies or a senior center caregiver support group, you need to find others with whom you can share these feelings. If you don’t, you may well end up taking out your negative emotions on the last person you want to hurt — the loved one for whom you are caring.