Managing Parenting and Caregiving

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Family caregivers who still have children living at home have to work hard to balance caring for aging loved ones while also parenting effectively. Children require a lot of time and attention to grow into healthy, productive adults. As they get older, like high school or even college-aged, they need a different kind of time and attention than they did when they were little. If you still have minors living at home in addition to caring for aging parents or other family members you know how much of your time is already spoken for. You don’t want to miss special school or church programs and you want to be there for those precious moments when your child needs you to be present and available. You also know you need to be with your aging mom or dad for doctor’s appointments, senior luncheons, and community events.

Parenting in and of itself is a full-time job, and so is family caregiving. So how can you be successful at both jobs? It is possible, but as with anything else, it requires planning and practice, and a really great support system! You also need to be realistic. You won’t be able to attend every school function, sporting event, concert, or field trip with your child. You also probably won’t be able to go to every doctor’s appointment or be at every luncheon or award program with your mom or dad. Use a calendar and update it frequently with new information.

Consider which events take priority. Can your spouse can go to the play and video it so you can watch later with your daughter? Perhaps your sibling can take your mom to the doctor so you can chaperone your son’s field trip. Talk with everyone involved and strategize how you can best support your child or parent and also be supported by others. Honest conversations may lead to finding new solutions to scheduling conflicts.

Choose wisely and find a happy balance between supporting your children and your aging family members. Manage this well and everyone will feel supported and loved. Miss this opportunity and you might set yourself up for hurt feelings, resentment, and guilt. Both caregiving and parenting are already largely thankless jobs, but with balance and communication you can be a champion at both in the future.

Chris and I hope you are staying well during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, and that you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how to balance caregiving with parenting.


Making Marriage Work while Caregiving

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When you become a family caregiver, you don’t usually have the opportunity to stop doing everything else. You probably have to manage a lot of other priorities in addition to providing care for an aging parent or loved one. If multitasking is one of your gifts, then more power to you, but if it’s not, you might feel like you are drowning most days.

Between caregiving, keeping house, paying bills, fixing meals, and organizing medication schedules and doctor’s visits, you hardly have time to breathe. Add to that managing a job and raising children, and there’s probably no more energy with which to nurture your marriage.

Betsy and I will celebrate our 31st wedding anniversary this week. Our marriage is built on faith, friendship, respect, and love. While no marriage is without its challenges, we have been truly blessed. Betsy and I are partners in every way we can be, so when she was caring for her mother in Georgia during that last year of Sarah’s life, it was hard on us both. She was stretched to the breaking point, trying to make her mother’s final weeks comfortable while also managing work responsibilities remotely and keeping our family informed and supported. She was far from home and very lonely during that time, and I struggled to find ways to encourage and support her, so she felt my love.

One of the things Betsy did to nurture our marriage during that time was to call me when her mother was taking a nap, and she had a little time to herself. We would spend a few minutes catching up on the details of our day; that call allowed us to draw strength from our connection. She also took care of herself by eating a healthy diet and keeping up with her exercise schedule. She tried to get regular sleep and didn’t stress out too much about the housekeeping. She would also send me an encouraging text or email at other times if she knew I was dealing with something stressful or worrisome. It humbled me to realize that I was on her mind, even a little, during those difficult days in her life.

If you feel like you have no energy to put into your marriage while caring for aging loved ones, have an honest conversation with your spouse. Choose a comfortable place and a generous block of time. Don’t try to talk when you are both stressed, exhausted, or in a hurry. Discuss how you can find time to be together regularly to strengthen your marital bonds. Share a meal; take a walk, and hold hands. Plan a regular date night. Schedule everything. Embrace the reality that one of the things you may have to let go of is spontaneity, at least for this season of life. Once you put a plan together, tweak it as needed to figure out what works best.

Most of all, never assume that a great marriage will stay great without putting any effort into it. That’s like starting an exercise program, then quitting after two or three years. All that fantastic progress you made in becoming physically fit will quickly diminish if you stop working out. The same thing can happen to a marriage when one spouse becomes wholly focused on caring for aging family members. But with intentionality, a marriage can grow and thrive during this time. Both partners may find your love and devotion strengthened as you learn new aspects of your relationship.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about ways to maintain your marriage as a caregiver.

Let Freedom Ring!

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Birthdays are big deals, at least in my book! My brother’s birthday happened over the weekend. I asked him if he did anything special, and he told me he won the senior division of a golf tournament. It’s not how I would choose to celebrate my special day, but I was happy for him.

This weekend we will observe the birthday of our country. When those brave men signed the Declaration of Independence 244 years ago, little did they know how their vision would shape the land we live in today! America has been known as the great experiment, the land of opportunity, and the free world. People came here from all over Europe to start a new life. Those first settlers weren’t trying to create a new country. As the new communities grew, however, they began to see themselves apart from their countries of origin. Independence emerged as a concept that grew roots and became a reality. Now that’s worthy of some fireworks!

Older generations fought wars to preserve our independence when it was threatened in the early 20th century. Younger generations were touched by the events of 9/11 in 2001 when terrorists attacked civilians on our very soil and took so many lives in the collapse of the World Trade Center buildings and the Pentagon. Every American citizen has something to be thankful for on Independence Day.

This week try to find ways to put a little sparkle into each day to bring more meaning to the holiday for you and those you care for. Purchase a bright patriotic bouquet of flowers for the table, or hang streamers from your mailbox or front porch. Perhaps you can watch fireworks in person or on TV. Make a layered dessert with sliced strawberries, blueberries, angel food cake, and whipped cream. If you assemble it in a clear bowl, it looks stunning, and it’s healthy as well!

Ask how the holiday was celebrated long ago and compare how things have changed in modern times. You might gain new insights as you hear stories you can share later with other family members.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about celebrating the birth of our nation.


Rainy Days and Summer Blues

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We have certainly had the rain over the past few weeks! I don’t know about you, but rainy days make me sleepy, sluggish, and sometimes even a little sad. That’s a pretty normal response, actually. After all, The Carpenters had a hit song in the 70s that said “Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.” We all know that we need the rain to water the crops and flowers, but lately, at least here in the Virginia Mountains,  it feels like someone forgot to turn off the faucet! A rainy day or two here and there during the summer brings welcome relief to the heat, but day after day of heavy downpours, or even just steady drizzle and fog can make anyone feel unmotivated. Here are some things you can try to beat those rainy-day blues for both you and your loved one.

Good old fashioned board games are a great way to pass the time. Checkers and Chess, or classics like Monopoly or Scrabble are lots of fun, and they all engage your brain as well as passing the time. You can also share stories about playing in the rain when you were a child or ask your loved one what they did as a child when it rained.

Cooking is both relaxing and therapeutic. Many favorites can be made with the standard ingredients most kitchens have, but you might also want to plan ahead and keep items on hand for something a little more special. Preparing and sharing favorite foods are also great opportunities to share memories.

You can break out the popcorn and settle in to watch a movie together. You could pick an old classic movie (“Singing in the Rain” would certainly be appropriate) or take the opportunity to watch something new. Again, if you plan ahead for days like this, you can even pick up some paper popcorn boxes so you can make the living room feel more like the cinema.

Try one of these or let one of these suggestions remind you of something else that will work. Regardless, finding fun things to do on dreary days can turn them into opportunities to let your heart shine even when the sun doesn’t.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join the conversation below and let us know your thoughts on ways to beat those rainy-day blues.

Who’s Your Daddy?

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Family caregivers fill a critical role as our parents age. We go from being the ones who need to be cared for to the ones who care for others. If we are lucky, there are many decades between these two stages of life. Still, even when the transition period is abbreviated, we find ways to get things done we never dreamed possible!
When the person you care for is your parent, you have a different responsibility. This is the person who gave you love and nurture and helped you become the caring person you are today. Not only do you have to balance your own life responsibilities, but you also have to consider others’ needs and desires. Your siblings may not be able to share in the care but still want to be involved in your aging parent’s life. Only superior time management and outstanding organizational skills will keep you sane while you continue to find ways to bring light, love, and laughter to your aging loved ones.
Sunday is Father’s Day, a time set aside to honor and appreciate our living fathers and to remember those who are no longer with us. You are blessed if your relationship with your father is rich and rewarding. If you are his caregiver, you are doubly blessed! Cherish the time you can spend together. There are many ways you can show love and appreciation during this particular season. Share memories of things he taught you when you were young. Reminisce about trips you took together or favorite TV shows you enjoyed years back. Make a list of the aspects of his character that you most admire and share them with him. And don’t forget to thank your Heavenly Father for letting you care for your earthly father.
Relationships are essential, especially if you are a family caregiver. After all, you are related to the person or people you care for, right? It’s what makes a family! Keep these bonds healthy by inviting other family members to share their best memories. Maybe set up a story-swapping event. COVID-19 is still impacting all of our communities, making it risky to enjoy large family gatherings. Zoom offers an excellent platform for your dad to visit with everyone, and for all of them to catch up with him! Take turns sharing funny memories, and everyone will come away laughing and looking forward to the next time.
Chris and I hope we have given you a few new ideas for how to celebrate Father’s Day safely. We hope you will join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about honoring your father.

New Ways to Travel

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Summer has traditionally been a time for family vacations. Families plan for many months in advance for this particular time to get away and visit exotic destinations, or go and visit with relatives who live far away. In recent years tourism has seen significant growth during our warmer months as multigenerational families flock to the mountains and the beaches for time away. Family caregivers often find themselves balancing the care of aging loved ones with the obligations of nurturing a marriage and children, or even grandkids and adult offspring. Your summer plans are sure to look very different this year.

The Coronavirus has largely rewritten life as we all have known it. Travel of any kind has been especially impacted. People who used to think nothing of getting on a plane or train to travel now opt to drive themselves or not even go. Zoom, Skype, and similar video communication applications have redefined how we get together today. It is common for people to gather virtually to avoid possible exposure to the virus. But how can you experience new cultures if your only option is through a camera lens?

Be assured that physical travel isn’t the only way you can see the world. Many vacation destinations have posted videos and even suggested activities you can do from home, even as you dream of going to exotic places in the future. Smithsonian Journeys will let you visit Egypt, ThrillistGlobeTreks, and others offer lots of options to see the world from your living room. Your only limitation is your imagination. The COVID-19 virus might try and stop you from packing a bag this summer, but if you are determined to pack that bag, here are things to consider from the Centers for Disease Control.

Whatever your circumstances, don’t let the current pandemic stop you from dreaming. Start planning your getaway for 2021 by exploring through television travelogues, websites, movies set in far-away places, or travel books and magazines. The more you allow yourself to explore options to expand your horizons, the better you will feel for having something to look forward to next summer!

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about future travels.

Laughter is Healing

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I don’t typically seek out comedies when I’m looking for something to watch on TV. I’m more into mysteries; a good detective story with twists and turns will usually hold me fast. When my office closed 11 weeks ago, and everybody moved to work from home, the learning curve we all experienced was exponential and exhausting! Add to that the emotional toll of continually changing information, empty grocery store shelves, business closures, and rising death tolls, and my brain didn’t want to solve anything it didn’t have to. I find that I need brainless entertainment and laughter to combat the heaviness of the times we’re living through.

Laughter is good for all of us. According to an article in Forbes from 2017, it releases serotonin, a feel-good brain chemical, that elevates your mood much like antidepressants or a brisk walk around the block. It alleviates stress, promotes deeper breathing, and gives you better clarity of thought. Different kinds of laughter activate different areas of the brain, and hearing laughter actually makes your brain work to define whether the laugh is joyous, tickle-motivated, or taunting.

Laughter is also contagious. It connects us socially in ways physical presence and even verbal communication cannot achieve. Simply put, laughing just makes us feel better overall, but many family caregivers don’t find much to laugh about in their situation.

Caregiving brings about significant stress under normal circumstances, and these times are anything but normal for most of us. If you are feeling like you can’t live this way anymore, maybe laughter is exactly what you need! Watch a silly sitcom on TV or read something light and humorous. Lewis Grizzard was an author and humorist from Georgia that wrote a column for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Among his many published works was one of my favorites: “Don’t Bend Over in the Garden, Granny…You Know Them Taters Got Eyes!” Your librarian can also probably point you in the right direction for books or audiobooks you could listen to while going about your daily tasks.

Recently Chris and I hung a couple of birdfeeders in our backyard to watch the birds. I have greatly enjoyed the chickadees, cardinals, doves, and nuthatches that have become daily visitors, but the squirrels have given me unexpected opportunities to laugh! They perform amazing acrobatic feats as they attempt to win the day over their winged rivals. (Please note, the link to the squirrel obstacle course is NOT our backyard!) The birds remind me of God’s promise in Matthew 6:26 to supply my daily needs just as he feeds the birds, but the squirrels are the comic relief I find myself needing every day. Just a few minutes of real belly laughs can do wonders for your ability to continue onward. When you find reasons to laugh often you might see an improvement in your overall health, and those you care for will also benefit from your levity.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about how laughter lightens your day.


Valuing Our Older Americans

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Older adults are our most precious resource! Betsy and I would like to take the opportunity during Older American’s Month to recognize the wisdom our elders can offer to enrich the lives of future generations.

Older Americans have seen so much life. Most can remember when there were no automobiles, TV, computers, cellphones, tablets, or space travel. Many lived in homes with no indoor plumbing. Life was more straightforward; the family was closer and more connected, and for most people, life held moments of stillness that we seem to have rediscovered during the COVID-19 pandemic. Given the opportunity, our oldest citizens can interpret today’s current advances and difficulties through a lens formed by many decades of experience. Still, with technological advancements happening at lightning speed, our society doesn’t always encourage the sharing of lessons learned by our elders.

Family caregivers might be in a valuable position here. They have a unique opportunity to capture stories that will enlighten family histories for generations to come. If your loved one can still remember their earlier years and experiences they had, you can explore those memories together. Ask simple, open-ended questions about experiences your older family members lived through. Their answers can yield a treasure trove of wisdom and insights that can enrich your life as well as your time together. You should have a notebook and jot down notes or keep a video or audio journal of these conversations. Later generations will appreciate your diligence to capture these stories in ways they can be shared.

Betsy had many opportunities to do this with her mother in her last couple of years. The two talked about her mother’s Marine Corps experience, her teaching career, and even college and graduate school memories. They went through old photo albums and letters Sarah had kept for decades. Betsy gained new insights that she has shared with our children. This time together deepened Betsy’s relationship with her mother. Also, it helped her realize the importance of putting away technology for a time to just sit and be together.

Time taken away from daily tasks, schedules, emails, social networks, and television can be reinvested in our older loved ones with excellent yield! For ideas of how to start a conversation, click here. Those hours spent in questions, discussions, and memories hold great rewards and will never be regretted.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about valuing our older Americans this month.

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Memorial Day is a day set aside for us to remember and honor those who have died while serving in our country’s armed forces. The holiday was initially observed on May 30 from 1868 until 1970, when it was moved to the last Monday in May. While the memorializing elements of this holiday are frequently lost in the onset of the summer vacation season, many older Americans still observe the holiday more traditionally. And this year’s pandemic has made the opening of vacation season sluggish at best.

Lesser-known as Decoration Day, many people observe this holiday by wearing poppies and placing flags on graves in military cemeteries across the country. Parades and special programs are traditionally held to honor veterans and remember the ultimate sacrifice they made while serving our country.

If your aging family member knows veterans who died in service to our country, perhaps you could visit their grave to place patriotic flowers or a flag. If your loved one is homebound, ask about memories of family members who were in the military. Look at photos and talk about those times. You might learn something surprising!

Perhaps your mom or dad didn’t have family members or friends who served during wartime. They probably have powerful memories about pivotal military moments such as Pearl Harbor, D-Day, or Desert Storm. If it is possible and not painful, ask if they would share those memories with you. If they resist or seem uncomfortable about talking of such memories, then change the subject and leave it alone. Not everyone’s remembrances are pleasant when related to military action.

Betsy’s family knew military service well. Her maternal grandfather was an infantryman during The Great War, and all four of his children served in either World War II or the Korean War. Her mother joined the Marines and served stateside so “another man could go and fight” while her father joined the Army and saw action in southern Europe and Northern Africa. He was always reluctant to discuss what he witnessed while there. 

The important consideration for you as a family caregiver is that Memorial Day is intended to honor and remember sacrificial service. Consider how you can best do this with those you care for. There probably won’t be lots of parades and local gatherings this year, but the Atlanta Journal-Constitution shares seven ways to celebrate at home here. If nothing else works, enjoy the warm weather and promise of summer just around the bend.

Betsy and I hope you’ll join us this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about Memorial Day memories.


Family Caregivers and COVID-19 Now

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Back in February, I celebrated my 60th birthday by running in the Disney Princess 10k with Chris and two of our children. That celebration allowed us to travel to Orlando, stay on property at Disney World, stand in a crowds comprised of thousands of runners for hours before the race, and then afterwards enjoy a day at Epcot. We noticed people wearing masks but didn’t worry too much about it. The Coronavirus was like the flu, right? Wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and be smart and you should be fine. And then our world changed. Over the next few weeks more information emerged, and less than a month after returning from Orlando we moved our office staff to working from home, met with all of our CAREGivers to review safety practices when working with our clients, and began to learn how to practice social distancing and self-isolation. Eight weeks later, we are still diligently working to support our clients and their families, our office team, and our CAREGivers as we move from day to day wondering when this will end and life can return to “normal”. COVID-19 has certainly made a significant impact on all our lives over the past several months!

For family caregivers some things may have changed drastically while others have remained amazingly consistent. Grocery store runs have become like scavenger hunts for such mundane items as toilet paper or meat products. All our hair salons and nail salons were forced to close. Even obtaining basic prescription drugs from the pharmacy could be a challenge with delayed shipping times and limited visits from pharmaceutical reps. The virus has disrupted such unexpected industries as auto parts manufacturing and sales, shipping, travel and tourism, and retail sales everywhere. Amazon has seen remarkable growth, and UPS and USPS report volumes similar to Christmas! Family caregivers everywhere struggle to balance the wants and needs of aging loved ones with the cautions and constraints the virus has placed on everything in our world. Social isolation and distancing is the order of the day, but one that is universally detrimental to older adults, because research shows that social engagement promotes increased brain function, enhanced emotional health, improved dietary habits and better overall physical health. Older adults who are socially active have more reasons to live, and they live longer and more satisfying lives.

How can you help your vulnerable older family members stay safe at home, but at the same time keep up their social interaction with friends and family members who might not be self-isolating like they should be? The answer might be easier than you think. Modern technology enables us to be, and feel, connected even when we are far apart. While nothing takes the place of a warm and hearty embrace, six feet of distance make that impossible. The next best thing might be a video call over a smart phone or tablet. Some tablets, like GrandPad, are designed to be senior-friendly with larger apps and use of cellular technology if WiFi is not available in the home. Playing games like Bingo or Solitaire can help with brain function, and some games like these are designed to allow for online opponents to increase social engagement. Sharing pictures frequently can help a loved one feel more connected when they cannot attend events like weddings, baptisms, and funerals. These events are all important family gatherings, and extremely dangerous to older family members during the pandemic. Even more frequent phone calls from distanced family members can break up the monotony of a lonely day. And, contrary to popular belief, it is still safe to let a professional caregiver supplement the care you give. These wonderful people, if hired through a reputable agency, are well trained in infection control as well as social distancing and self-isolation. The agency will have safety measures in place to monitor employee health and won’t knowingly send a sick employee to care for your loved one.

As many people begin to emerge from their forced hibernation, we all need to remember that the virus is still present. Self-isolating and social distancing has flattened the curve for hospitals and medical intervention in many areas, but for now there is no vaccine and none of us has an immunity to the virus. It is still developing in and being spread by people who may not even know they are sick. What can you do to continue to protect those you care for?

For starters, continue to be smart. Wash your hands throughout the day, and every time you go out into the community try not to touch things like door handles, railings, and counters. Don’t touch your face while you are out. Wear disposable gloves if you have access to them. Wear a mask if you have symptoms. Don’t gather in close, large groups. Basically, keep doing what you have been doing. Until a vaccine is available, your older loved ones are still the most vulnerable population, and your extraordinary measures taken now can save lives.

The Centers for Disease Control continues to update their website with current information about the virus. Click here to get the latest updates.

Chris and I hope you’ll join us this week at Heart of the Caregiver dot com and share your heart about coping strategies as we find ways to resume living with COVID-19.