Stereotypically, most view family caregivers as a “solo act.” Outsiders, regardless of their relationship to the care recipient and caregiver, often shy away. They don’t know the proper way to react, and they may hesitate to offer assistance due to the fear that they may offend the caregiver.
Conversely, the family caregiver either doesn’t want to bother others, so they refuse to ask for help, or they fear and anticipate being turned down.
There are also those that openly volunteer to offer support and are rejected by the caregiver. What is at stake? The caregiver may fear that accepting help from others might be viewed negatively, as a sign of weakness. I was guilty of this for longer than I care to admit.
When their pride gets in the way, who suffers the most? Is it the family caregiver?
The person that is the most dramatically impacted is the care recipient.
If the caregiver burns out, becomes exhausted or depressed (up to 70 percent of all caregivers suffer one or more symptoms of depression), the care the loved one is receiving could be compromised.
What should you do if you are a highly competent and effective family caregiver?
Swallow your fear and pride – and ask for volunteers.
Knowing When It Is Time To Post The “Help Wanted” Sign
One of the best things you can do to gather support is to hold a family meeting. Call it whatever you wish, but in essence, it’s a “help wanted” party.
I suggest a “pot luck” appetizer or dinner event. Make it fun, cheerful and, above all else, lighthearted.
Let’s start with the guest list. Who should be invited? Everyone! The list could include immediate and distant family members, current and former friends, colleagues and neighbors.
Invite them to be members of your exclusive “Caregiver Inner Circle.”
Prepare and distribute an agenda.
Then begin the meeting. Remember to keep it as stress-free as possible.
Agenda items for discussion can include:
- Current state of affairs (share a funny story or two when reviewing each category).
- Greatest hurdles by timeline and category (day, week, occasional). (Example: meals, transportation, respite time, shopping, doctor’s visits, research, organizer, communicator). Tell a story where you tried your best to satisfy one or more of these activities and failed in a humorous way.
- Feedback session. Ask for thoughts, ideas and feelings. It’s not time to request volunteers yet. Have someone record the comments made. Thank each for volunteering to speak and summarize the positive comments they made (while diplomatically pushing past the negative ones).
- Based on the feedback session, determine critical categories. Now is the time to ask for volunteers and commitments. Begin with those individuals that you know will respond enthusiastically. Call on the contrary individuals last.
- The goal: Everyone in attendance should accept an assignment. If someone wishes to be overly generous and volunteers for more than one activity, accept it. Do not try to discourage anyone. More is better than less!
- Obtain contact information from all. If the group is agreeable, have the primary communicator gather the information and distribute a list.
- End on a happy note. Perhaps provide small tokens of your appreciation as a lighthearted way to conclude the meeting.
- Inform everyone that updates will be provided on a regular basis, schedules will be distributed, and a follow-up meeting will be held in the near future.
- If the person being cared for is physically capable of being present, they should be allowed to do so.
- The care recipient should have the ultimate say in any decisions being made on their behalf. Even if they make a decision that you find to be unfavorable, you may have to defer to them. Otherwise, the meeting might take a tone of being self-serving. Should that occur, fewer individuals might volunteer to assist.
- Not all meetings will go smoothly, In fact, if you anticipate that one or more of the individuals attending might be quarrelsome, you might consider asking a neutral party to host the gathering. Professional case managers have been known to offer such gatherings as a service.
It is completely acceptable and highly recommended that you do not try to undertake your caregiving role without a huge support system. Being a family caregiver can be one of the most difficult, yet rewarding responsibilities you’ve ever undertaken.
In time, you will find it virtually impossible to successfully tackle all of your caregiver responsibilities without the help and support of others.
You’ll be surprised how many people want to help you, but are hesitant to ask. By taking the initiative, you might be very pleasantly surprised by the response – and the multitude of help you and your loved one will receive from others.