When I started helping take care of my Mom a few years ago, I quickly learned how I should act around her. I’ve learned to speak slowly, clearly, and positively. I’ve learned not to argue with her about anything. I’ve learned not to question or correct her when she tells me stories that don’t quite sound right. I’ve learned not to ask her if she remembers things, but rather to remind her of them. I’ve learned to hold her hand and guide her to places instead of simply giving her commands and telling her where to go. I’ve learned a lot about being a caregiver, but I am still learning.
One thing I’m still learning is how to balance being a caregiver and just being myself. It is often difficult to know where my role of being a caregiver ends and my role of being myself begins. Being a caregiver does not define who I am, but it is a large part of me. Remember, I was just 25-years-old when my Mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I was only 28-years-old when I quit my job as a police officer and started caring for my Mom part-time. Through much of my twenties, I had no idea who I was or who I wanted to be. Like most 20-somethings, I was still trying to figure that all out. I was trying to find myself. My journey of self-discovery helped me realize and accept that I no longer wanted to be a police officer. It also helped me realize that I wanted to spend more time with my Mom and be able to help take care of her. Becoming a caregiver for my Mom further shaped the woman I am today. But, I am not just a caregiver. That role does not define me as a person. I am still Lauren. I still need to be myself. But, there are many times when I’m not sure which role I should be playing.
Whenever there is a family party, my husband and I will usually pick my parents up and give them a ride. Since we all arrive at the party together, I usually take over the caregiver role for the remainder of the party. I know that my Dad wants to have a few Coors Lights and relax for a change. I also know that he needs and deserves that “time off” much more than I do. Therefore, I don’t mind taking over the caregiver role for the night and allowing my Dad to have a good time. However, it’s a little difficult to play both the caregiver and myself for the night. I want to be caring, patient, and attentive for my Mom, but I also want to be loud, funny, and potty-mouthed for my other family members. I want to be the caregiver, while also just being myself. It may not seem like it, but it’s very hard to find the balance between the two roles. How can I tell my family members funny stories without making my Mom feel left out because she doesn’t understand what I’m talking about? How can I hang out with everyone in the kitchen without leaving my Mom sitting all by herself in the living room? How can I make sure that my Mom is included and involved in what’s going on even though she has no clue what’s going on? How can I get my Mom something to eat or drink and help her use the bathroom without completely missing out on all of the family fun? Some people might say that it is not solely my responsibility to take care of my Mom at family parties and that I should try to enjoy myself. But, I would rather sit in a room alone with my Mom while everyone else has fun than leave my Mom sitting alone, staring off into space, just so I can have a good time.
That’s when the balancing act comes into play. How can I be both the patient, attentive caregiver and still have fun being myself? It’s a balance and it’s not easy. Often times, family parties are quite stressful for me because they involve an awful lot of work for me. I can’t just simply float around the party, smiling and chatting with everyone. I am usually right by my Mom’s side the entire time in order to help her with things and to make her feel included in the party. I feel obligated to do this. There is no shutting it off for me. There is no clocking out. It is just what I must do in order to protect her and take care of her. I do my best to balance both roles. I stay close to my Mom’s side to help her and let her know that she’s not being ignored. But, I also try to talk to everyone at the party and have a good time. Like I said, it’s a lot of work and it can be very stressful. There are many times when I would much rather just skip the party completely. Of course, I want to see my family and spend time with them, but it would be much easier to just avoid the whole situation. This is especially true for bigger events, such as weddings, bridal showers, or baby showers. However, I know that there will come a day when my Mom’s attendance at such events will be completely out of the question, so, for now, I will continue to do my best balancing act.
Aside from balancing the roles of being a caregiver and being myself, it is difficult to balance my parents’ needs and my own needs. My Mom needs a lot of help and is unable to take care of herself anymore. My Dad needs a lot of help with taking care of my Mom. I am usually the only person willing, able, and available to help them out. As I said before, I also feel obligated to help them. I feel as though it is my duty as their daughter to help them. I am a doer, a fixer, a helper. I would feel like total shit if I did nothing to help out my own Mom and Dad. Worse than the stress of helping them out is the guilt that I would feel if I did nothing to help. I don’t understand how someone in my position could not feel obligated to help out. I don’t feel as though I’m doing anything noble or admirable. I am simply doing what I should do.
Having said all of that, it is difficult to draw the line between helping my parents and helping myself. My husband often reminds me that I am still young and that I have my own life to live. He tells me that I deserve to have a life and a career of my own choosing. He tells me that I deserve to have fun with my friends and to take some time off from taking care of my Mom. I know that he’s right, but it’s hard for me to put myself before my parents. I don’t think that I could ever go back to working a regular full-time job because I know that I wouldn’t have any time to help out with my Mom. Maybe I am being unfair to myself, but I know that I would never forgive myself if I wasn’t around to help out. I know that I deserve to have a successful, fulfilling career, but I would never choose that career over my Mom. I think it is a lot like when a new mom decides to stay at home with her kids rather than go back to work. I have the rest of my life to work and make money, but I might only have a few more years left to spend time with my Mom. I want to make sure that I make those years count. I want to make the last few years of her life the best that they can possibly be. I often think that if all I do is help take care of my Mom, then I will have nothing to show for my life once she’s gone. But, at the same time, I will have learned a lot from my time with her and I will be able to share that with others. I will have so much to offer other people who are going through what I have already gone through. So, in that sense, helping my parents through this storm will also help me fulfill my purpose in the long run.
Life is often a balancing act for many of us. We have to prioritize and figure out what works best for ourselves. We have to find our own balance. I’m still learning to find my balance. I’m still learning to live my own life in the midst of this horrific storm. But, I know that I will have plenty of time to live my life to its fullest once we come out of this storm. For now, I don’t think I’m meant to be living my life for just me. I’m meant to be living it for all of us. The thought of that brings me peace. And, it is in that peace that I know I have found my balance.