November is the month of giving thanks. But if you feel like you’re really just giving giving, giving, you’re not alone.
November is also National Family Caregivers Month—and more than 65 million Americans are caregivers, according to Caregiver Action Network, the nation’s leading non-profit organization providing education, peer support, and resources to family caregivers. What’s more, many of these caregivers are members of the aptly named “Sandwich Generation,” a group marked by its responsibility to somehow care for both its children and parents. Currently about one in seven middle-aged adults provide financial support and four-in-ten provide emotional support to both their children and aging parents, according to the Pew Research Center.
Widowed, single mother Katie Hafner was once stuck between two slices of “give me, give me, give me,” living with and caring for both her teenage daughter and elderly mother. As you can imagine, drama ensued. But the pedestrian squabbles over who got what drawer were trumped by the fact that, prior to her mother moving in, the two women barely knew each other. They hadn’t lived together since Katie was 10 years old and had been taken away because of her mother’s alcoholism.
Katie had anticipated living together again as an opportunity to grow closer to her mother, but she came to learn it also was an opportunity to face the anger and resentment toward her mother she had unknowingly carried with her since childhood. Spoiler alert: the little “experiment,” as Katie calls it, crashed and burned.
Writing became her therapy. Now, her memoir and an Oprah book of the week, Mother Daughter Me, casts a humorous, emotional, and, ultimately, uplifting look at how women can care for their mothers, daughters, and, most importantly, themselves
So, whatever your caregiving role, take a lesson from Katie’s experience. Here, her top three tips for taking care of yourself—even if you’re living between two buns:
No parent is perfect. Many women feel their parents “missed the mark” in one way or another. The key is finding a way to forgive those faults, not just for your parents’ sake, but for your own sanity as well. “Writing Mother Daughter Me was very helpful in coming to terms with my mother’s shortcomings as a parent. It was only in the writing of the book that I took the time and energy to understand who my mother really is, and the kind of parent she was, as well as the effect that alcohol had on her ability to parent us,” Katie says. “I believe she loved her children, but once alcohol entered the mix, we didn’t stand much of a chance—and neither did she! I feel very strongly that parents do the best they can, given what they have to work with.”
2. Set Boundaries
“I spent a lifetime not knowing where those boundaries were because I was so busy nurturing an unrealistic picture of the life I thought I might have with her—and thought I should have had with her,” Katie says. But after her “experiment in multi-generational living” failed, she found that, with boundaries, she and her mother were able to become closer than ever. “I learned to hold back, and hold onto myself, rather than confide in my mother endlessly (bad idea). We found that we could have great conversations without having to touch on topics that were too painful. But first, my resentment about my childhood needed to melt away, and I’m happy to say it has,” she says.
3. Be Proactive
The goal of caregiving is to head off problems before they arise—and that goes both for your loved ones and for yourself. “Make sure there is a good system in place, and with good communication,” Katie says. Sit down as a family to talk about everyone’s priorities, come up with a plan, and cross the T’s and dot the I’s on medical and legal paperwork to ease stress later on. “Also, don’t wait too long to make sure your parents have downsized, and started the step toward a retirement community. I have so many friends who say their parents waited too long. My own mother was very smart in that she moved out of her large house before she was too frail to control the move herself.” Get more practical tips for reducing the emotional and financial burden of caring for aging parents.
This National Family Caretakers Month, let’s join together and support all of the caretakers in our lives. Maybe it’s a friend who has opened her home to her father. Maybe it’s a sister who is coping will an ill child. Maybe it’s you. As women, we are the rocks of our families. But before we can really take care of anyone else, we have to take care of ourselves. For more support from the sisterhood, pick up a copy of Mother Daughter Me at amazon.com or wherever books are sold—or just enter to win the book here! In honor of National Family Caretakers Month, Katie has donated several copies of her book for lucky EllenDolgen.com readers!
Remember: Suffering in silence in OUT!Reaching out is IN!