Caregiving expert Patricia Smith on what to do when caring for mom threatens to interrupt a son’s dream.
QUESTION: I am caring for my mom, who is an invalid, along with three rotating paid caregivers. I am in college nearby and need the help in order to attend my classes and have time to study. I am very serious about my plans to become a nurse, and the sooner I can complete my degree, the sooner I can find a job. For the most part, this caregiving situation works out fine. There is always someone available to be onsite for my mother, and all three of the caregivers are very flexible and kind. Unfortunately, my mother doesn’t agree. She doesn’t like any of the caregivers and makes her unhappiness known by ordering them around in a very harsh tone. I have talked with all three of them and apologized for her behavior. Again, they are all understanding and believe it is her illness that is causing her stress and discomfort. I wish this was the case, but it’s not. She simply doesn’t want any of them in our house. This isn’t the first group of caregivers I’ve hired. In total, we have had nine caregivers in the past two years, and not one of them met with my mother’s approval. She has made it clear that she wants me–and only me—to provide her care. This just isn’t realistic and I am sticking to my decision to continue on with my schooling. Am I being self-centered or selfish? My mother seems to think so.—Dennis
RELATED: Carrie Ann Inaba on Caregiving
ANSWER: First of all, congratulations to you for continuing with your education. No matter what the future holds, it is imperative that you are trained in your chosen field and have a way to support yourself and remain independent. Your decision is neither self-centered nor selfish. It is unfortunate that your mother has clouded this issue because you have taken the right path for both you and your mother, although it may not be clear to her at this time.
Now for the caregivers: Have you had a conversation with your mother about what it is exactly that bothers her about this set of caregivers? She may or may not have legitimate reasons for complaining. Matching a caregiver with a person needing care isn’t always a simple task. Caregiving demands highly intimate processes and procedures, such as bathing, dressing, administering medications, changing bandages, and even spoon feeding someone in their care. There must be a comfort level between both parties for the actions to foster wellness and healing. You didn’t mention how long this set of caregivers has been with you. Could it be that your mother needs more time to become better acquainted with them? You might spend time with each caregiver away from your mother and ask his or her thoughts and feelings about how the caregiving relationship is going. Maybe they will be able to provide some new insights. You also might stay onsite while each caregiver is on the clock. While studying or writing a paper, keep your eyes and ears open for conversations between each caregiver and your mother. Watch for actions or behaviors that are putting your mother, or the caregiver, on the defense. Take in as much information as possible before deciding your next step. Take your mother’s complaints to heart and hear her out. If, after you have listened with intent, you still feel your mother has a different agenda that isn’t about the caregivers but her need to have you close by constantly, then you must take a stand and be firm. This is not disrespectful if done with kindness and love. Hopefully, in time, your mother will come to terms with this well-intentioned caregiving solution.
Got a caregiving question? Submit yours here.
Patricia Smith is a certified Compassion Fatigue Specialist with 20 years of training experience. As founder of the Compassion Fatigue Awareness Project© (www.compassionfatigue.org), the outreach division of Healthy Caregiving, LLC, she writes, speaks and facilities workshops nationwide in service of those who care for others. She has authored several books including To Weep for a Stranger: Compassion Fatigue in Caregiving, which is available at www.healthycaregiving.com or Amazon.com.