Caregiving – a job of paramount importance – one of the toughest and probably one of the most thankless jobs in the world. Generally a job done with no perks or salary at the end of the month; no annual leave or fixed hours; no glamorous Christmas parties to look forward to. It’s a job which needs to be done – in sickness and in health, during public holidays or auspicious religious days.
A family caregiver has a pretty broad definition: A family member who regularly looks after a child or a sick, elderly, or disabled person.
Most of us have probably been or will probably be a family caregiver at some point – whether it is taking care of your sick child or spouse suffering from a bout of flu, or taking care of your grandma as she battles cancer. Some of us have done it for a day or two at a time whilst others have dedicated years of their life to caregiving. It is an inherent part of our culture and we take great pride in it. We take care of our children and grandchildren and in turn they take care of their parents, grandparents, parents-in-law. It’s almost like a full circle.
Whilst most caregivers are passionate about their job, it can be draining – emotionally, mentally and physically – a rollercoaster ride – with good days and bad and highs and lows.
Research has shown that family caregivers end up taking their ‘caregiving’ job so seriously – they forget about looking after themselves. Often they become victim to sleep deprivation, unhealthy diets, failure to exercise and most commonly not taking the time, medication and rest required to recover from illness. Studies have shown that these caregivers are themselves more likely to develop a chronic illness – like high blood pressure, high cholesterol or depression.
Having spoken to several family caregivers, I feel saddened. I’ve realised that as a society we need to pay more homage to them. We need to stop haunting them with advice and guilt and instead lend a helping hand and support. These caregivers are probably second guessing themselves all the time about decisions they’ve made. I know lots of young parents who’re wondering if their children would have turned out ‘better’ if they had done something differently – maybe sent them to a different school or maybe they should have approached disciplining differently. I’ve also met a lot of family caregivers who are taking care of their parents or grandparents – and they’re also second guessing themselves – maybe we should have flown to India for the dadima’s hip replacement? Or what if we had tried Ayurveda for Dad instead of chemotherapy?
Most family caregivers often have the following thoughts racing through their minds:
What will people say?
I’m so selfish – I want to go to Mombasa for a holiday!!
I just want a lie in – can someone just deal with the baby
I need help – but if I ask for it I’ll look so inadequate
If I don’t do it, no one else will
If I do it right, I will get unconditional love, attention and respect for the rest of my days.
To the non-caregivers in my audience, I have a humble request for you – let’s give the caregivers the help they really need. How? Perhaps we could take over caregiving duties for a week and let them have a break. Or we could drop off meals on a regular basis. Let’s stop giving advice and suggestions that keep making the caregivers feel guilty and stressed. Let’s instead focus on giving them support.
To the caregivers: whoever you are, whether you’re looking after your mum, dad, sasu, sasra, child, grandchild – give yourself a break. Take some time out and evaluate whether your caregiving is at the expense of your own health and sanity. You’ll probably enjoy caregiving more if you took time to energise and indulged in some “me-time”. Please stop worrying about what the world thinks – you’re doing the best you can and don’t let anyone convince you otherwise. When you need, please ask for help – don’t be afraid to admit that you need help – and be specific about the help you need – when, how, where etc. Finally, make sure you make a conscious effort to take care of yourself – exercise on a regular basis, eat healthy meals and take up a hobby.
For now, I would like to raise a toast to all the family caregivers around. You’re all doing a fabulous job and the sacrifices you make each day don’t go unnoticed. But I urge you to take some time out for YOURSELF – because you deserve it. The rest of us are waiting to help – just ask for it!