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If you’ve ever been a caregiver during the holidays, you know how stressful it can be when caregiving tasks already fill your day. Heap the expectations of a joy-filled season on top of that, and there is real potential for feelings of guilt, anger, resentment and complete fatigue to take over.

Many caregivers are constantly exhausted, and sometimes just putting one foot in front of the other seems daunting. It can be tempting to hide away until after the holidays to avoid dealing with the added stress.

If you can relate, these suggestions may help you as a caregiver during the holidays.

Give yourself permission to put self-care at the top of the list. 

You probably know that you can’t give what you don’t have to others, but that is just plain easier said than done. Some family and friends may have more flexibility to give you much-needed breaks to exercise, sleep, treat yourself to some time with friends or to just do nothing.

Instead of trying to do it all yourself, let someone help.

Driving to doctor visits, picking up prescriptions, changing beds, grocery shopping, fixing meals and keeping the house clean can keep you going 24/7. Friends are usually looking for ways to be helpful, especially during the holidays. It will bless you both if you take them up on their offers or ask for what you need.

Think about what makes your heart happy when it comes to celebrating the holidays. 

Do those things and eliminate the rest even though you might want to do more. Instead of doing all the decorating, ask a friend if they would do it for you. Send an email instead of cards or have someone help you address envelopes. If hosting the annual holiday gathering feels like too much to handle this year, ask someone else to host. If you still want to host but want less responsibility, let others bring the food.

Take control of your mind and guard against negative self-talk.

If you typically do everything yourself, this can be a particularly complicated time of year. On one hand, you know you need help, but on the other hand, you hate to seem needy. Healthy people ask for what they need and don’t feel guilty about it.

Caring for a loved one goes on for a season, and that time period may be months or years. Whatever the time frame, most people understand how hard it is, and there are often many people in your life who are willing to help you shoulder some of the load so that in the end you don’t end up sacrificing yourself in the name of caring for the one you love.

Click here to read the entire article, which was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on December 9, 2018.

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“In 2010, the first Baby Boomers turned 65. By 2030, 20 percent of America’s population will be over 65. As the Baby Boom generation moves into later life, the proportion of American elders who are divorced is skyrocketing,” says researcher and author Elizabeth Marquardt. “The McKinsey Global Institute predicts that by 2015, 46 percent of boomers will live in divorced or unmarried households. These trends raise concerns for Baby Boomers as they age – and challenges for their grown children – as they become caregivers for their aging parents.”

Marquardt and Amy Ziettlow are co-researchers in a 3-year project funded by the Lilly Endowment to investigate aging, death and dying in an era of high family fragmentation.

Marquardt and Ziettlow are asking Gen Xers about things like:

  • How does your generation care for parents who may live far apart?
  • Is there an obligation to care for stepparents?
  • How do you grieve the loss of a parent when you have grieved the loss at the time of the divorce?
  • How do you honor your father and mother when a parent abandons their child?

During an interview, one man said, “My parent’s cold war lasted until my dad died. Then my mom wanted me to mourn the loss of my dad with her. I had already mourned the loss of my father.”

“Married parents will do their best to protect their kids from the worst of a dying parents’ illness,” Marquardt says. “Fragmented families don’t have that luxury. In fact, many of the people interviewed talked about stepparents who don’t communicate anymore once the biological parent has passed away. Family change is not the only stressor. Longer life span, smaller family size and rapid economic changes have a ripple effect on family breakdown.

“We have never thought forward to the impact of divorce on an aging nation,” Marquardt says. “Marriage used to be ‘until death do us part.’ Now it is ‘until it doesn’t feel good anymore.’ There are people who will die a lonely death due to family fragmentation. Leaders are asking who will be taking care of the old people.”

Marquardt and Ziettlow have found there is a lot of hope with Generation X.

“There is something about telling your story,” Marquardt says. “Out of sharing tears, raw memories and family craziness there is a hope that seems to emerge. They take a deep breath and at the end seem to feel a sense of relief.”

Many of those interviewed said they agreed to do it because they wanted to honor their parent.

“The golden rule doesn’t say, ‘Do unto others as they have done to you,’” Marquardt says. “Of the Gen Xers we have interviewed, many say their only hope is to rise above what has happened to them and to ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.’”

Who will be there to take care of you when you can’t take care of yourself?

Image from Unsplash.com

How can you help people finish life well? Several years ago Carol Courtney found herself in an interesting position. Her mother called to say that her father was in the hospital due to breathing problems. As a healthcare professional, all kinds of things were running through Courtney’s mind.

“I knew he had been having episodes where he would black out, but not pass out. This made me think he was having respiratory issues,” says Courtney. “As time went by and I kept asking my mother for information, I realized she did not know the names of my father’s doctors nor did she have any idea what was happening other than he had breathing issues.”

As a nurse, Courtney knew that this lack of information was not uncommon for people who are unfamiliar with healthcare.

“Most people are intimidated by doctors, are often afraid to ask questions or don’t know the right questions to ask,” Courtney says. “My goal was to get my father out of the hospital. In spite of trying to coach my mom from a distance on the kinds of questions she should ask, what to say and how to get to know the physicians, when my father was discharged she did not know his diagnosis or the care that would be required to keep him at home.”

At this point, Courtney decided to take action. She wrote down every question she had before calling the physician. She knew from experience that if you ask the right questions you will get the answers.

The key is knowing what to ask.

“From my conversation with the physician I learned my dad had terminal pulmonary fibrosis and he was expected to live approximately three months,” Courtney says. “I was the one who told my parents about pulmonary fibrosis, what the coming days would probably look like and what we needed to do to make this time as pleasant as possible.”

This is when things tend to get tough for families with members about to finish life, explains Courtney. The stress can fracture a family’s ‘fault lines’ and lead to a falling out – right at the time when the dying person needs their support.

“I knew we had a very short amount of time to do what I considered important business,” Courtney says. “My mom emailed all of Dad’s relatives and friends and explained that he was terminally ill. She invited all of them to come for a visit as soon as possible. My dad died 11 weeks after being discharged from the hospital. But, in those 11 weeks, 32 people came to see my father. We laughed, cried, shared stories and truly enjoyed each other’s company.”

Courtney’s sons brought their grandfather tons of chocolate when they came to visit him. He loved chocolate, but hadn’t been allowed to have it because of high cholesterol. They had a serious party!

“When my father died, his funeral was truly a celebration of his life,” Courtney says. “This whole experience changed my focus in life. I realized I was passionate about helping people finish life well. My goal is for people to have reconciliation and celebration before they die.”

Most people don’t want to think about dying or planning what they want that process to look like. That includes arranging their funeral.

“Talking about the end of life and what you want it to look like with your spouse and children is revolutionary,” Courtney says. “I encourage people to plan and communicate about what they want and how their family and friends can help. They can take a methodical and thorough approach, and end life well.”

Image from Unsplash.com

What Every Child Needs to Learn

Practice these caregiving principles with the kids in your sphere of influence.

Did you know…

  • Babies can hear three months before they are born?
  • 80 percent of a child’s brain growth happens in the first three years?
  • On average, the ratio of reprimands, warnings or scolding to praise or encouragement is 12 to 1 for children in low-income families?
  • A major study showed that by age 2, less-advantaged children were six months behind the highly advantaged in language processing skills?

Dr. Ron Ferguson, adjunct lecturer in public policy at Harvard Kennedy School (HKS), and faculty director of Harvard’s Achievement Gap Initiative (AGI), shared these facts as he talked about an initiative he launched in Boston. His goal is to help parents engage with their young children and reduce the skill gaps that become apparent between children from different socioeconomic backgrounds by age 3.

“Looking at the research, I realized a lot of the gaps we struggle to address once children are older are evident by the age of 2,” says Ferguson. “We know we are never going to reach everybody through standard programs because capacity is limited, but imagine what could happen if everybody in the community felt a sense of ownership to do their part in helping children thrive.”

The initiative focuses on five evidence-based parenting and caregiving principles. These things can help make sure every child has what they need to learn.

These principles are scientifically proven ways to promote brain development in young children. The initiative is designed so every parent, caregiver, family member, friend or citizen can use and share it.

Here are the principles:

Maximize Love, Manage Stress.

Infants thrive when their world seems loving, safe and predictable. When you express love and respond to their needs, they learn that they can count on you. Showing love and responding helps children learn to manage their feelings and behavior. Feeling secure in their relationships gives them the confidence to explore, learn and take on life’s challenges.

Talk, Sing and Point. 

From birth, babies are learning language. Initially, speech is just sound to a newborn. Day by day, they learn that sounds have meaning. This process depends on how much people talk to them. Talking, singing or pointing to what you are talking about provides clues to the meaning of your words. You are providing important information to their brains about how language works. As your child develops, talking with them and answering their questions teaches them about the world.

Count, Group, Compare.

Becoming good at math begins long before a child enters school. Even infants are wired to learn simple math ideas, including small numbers, patterns and making comparisons. You don’t need to be a math teacher to prepare your child to be a problem solver. You can do fun and simple activities now to build math and thinking skills.

Explore through Movement and Play. 

Movement and play are good for children’s bodies, their coordination, strength and overall health. This is how children explore and learn, too. Each stage of development brings new opportunities for learning. For example, an infant might explore by touching, grasping, chewing or crawling. A toddler might explore by walking or climbing. Young children are like scientists, curious and excited to explore.

Read and Discuss Stories. 

Reading with young children consistently prepares them to enjoy reading and to do well in school. It is never too early to begin reading! Stories expose children to words and ideas that they would not otherwise experience. Books teach children to use their imaginations, and what they learn about people, places and things can be important building blocks to future success. Reading together creates lasting memories.

Research shows this type of support for early brain growth is a key to stimulating a healthy start in life for all infants and toddlers.

It is also the foundation of kindergarten readiness.

Imagine the impact if everyone practiced these caregiving principles with the children in their sphere of influence. It is possible to close the achievement gap and help all of our kids get off to a great start. We all have a role to play.

Other blogs:

Why Do Secure Relationships Matter for Children?

9 Ways to Play With Your Kids

7 Things Every Child Needs to Thrive