The role of a family caregiver looks different in just about every situation, but the idea remains the same: a caregiver is someone who provides care for a loved one, such as an elderly parent, family member, or a friend. Not to be confused with a medical professional, a family caregiver is an extension of the health care a doctor provides.
Whatever your extension of the role as a family caregiver, there's an art to balancing being a caregiver and your own life. These tips can help you navigate that tricky world with ease and grace.
What Is a Family Caregiver?
The formal definition of a family caregiver varies from place to place, and can include given or chosen family, but the Family Caregiver Alliance says it quite well: "Any relative, partner, friend or neighbor who has a significant personal relationship with, and provides a broad range of assistance for, an older person or an adult with a chronic or disabling condition."
What Does a Family Caregiver Do?
As the definition above references, a family caregiver provides a range of assistance. What do family caregiver responsibilities involve? That all depends on how much assistance the receiver requires or desires. Essentially, they are a home-based care coordinator.
A family caregiver might do laundry, help with housework, keep track of medicine and dispense medicine, act as a driver, assist with grooming, or aid in necessary errands. This is a brief list of what a family caregiver might do, but certainly isn't exhaustive, nor is it what each caregiver would do.
- Organize medications
- Provide transportation to doctor's appointments, grocery store, or other errands
- Act as a liaison with medical professionals
- Take on the role of patient advocate
- Assist in mobility activities, such as getting in and out of chairs or bed
- Prepare meals as well as grocery shop
- Help to manage finances
- Housework and/or yard work as needed
How to Balance Life as a Family Caregiver
Knowing how to balance work and family can be tough; for the role of a family caregiver, even more responsibilities can take their toll. Acting as a caregiver often means living a double life: managing your schedule in addition to the schedule of the individual you're caring for, and most often, your own responsibilities, career, and health.
If you're a family caregiver trying to balance work and family, you're not alone. More than 1 in 6 Americans works in addition to being a family caregiver, according to Family Caregiver Alliance.
Being a caregiver is a full-time job in addition to holding down a full-time job. It's exhausting, daunting, and while deeply rewarding, can quickly lead to stress or caregiver burnout. But there are ways to make it manageable and keep it that way.
Set Firm Boundaries
If you're holding down a job or managing your own family, boundaries are important. This is doubly true if you're coordinating with other family caregivers.
Use a Website to Share News
Updating curious friends and family about how someone is doing can be time consuming. Consider a phone tree, someone who can run point with updates, or setting up a website such as Caring Bridge to get the info out without having to spend hours each week texting or calling.
Take Time Out for Self-Care
Being a family caregiver takes a lot out of you. Whether you add quick bursts of self-care to your day or make an afternoon of self-care, your health, and well-being are important.
Establish a Schedule
Make it clear what days, times, meals, or appointments you're able to cover - whether consistently and repeatedly or on a rotating basis. Take as much guesswork out of your caregiving work as you can.
Learn the Art of Delegating
See where you could outsource some tasks to lighten your load: can you hire a medical transportation company for rides to and from appointments? Can you order pre-made meals to be delivered or opt for a meal delivery service? Whatever it is, chances are a solution exists!
Utilize FMLA Through Your Job Where Possible
Most jobs offer job-protected leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act, although benefits and how you can use the 12 weeks will vary. It's a dialogue you'll want to engage with earlier rather than later.
You may also be able to negotiate a more flexible schedule with your employer, as losing a salary isn't always a feasible option for families. You could also qualify for benefits, counseling, and other support through an Employee Assistance Program.
Request Time Off of Work
Take a day at a time here or there if your PTO policy allows it. Not only to clear your schedule as a caregiver, but to take care of your own errands, grocery shopping, and meal prep.
Whether digitally or with pen and paper, stay on top of schedules with a calendar. Organize paperwork as you acquire it, whether with digital or hard copy folders and store all important emails in the same place.
Maintaining organized records is a sure way to cut down on time searching for necessary info. You can channel the 1980s and 1990s parents by always having important phone numbers and names somewhere easily accessible.
Know When to Call Audibles
While routines and schedules are important, being flexible can help you juggle your family and your family caregiver duties.
Embrace Your Limitations
It's also important to know your limitations - there are only 24 hours in a day, and you need to feed, sleep, and take care of yourself too. If you're working full time and caring for an elderly parent or other family member, it's a lot. Check your capacity, get help when you need it, and know when you need a break.
Don't Let Guilt Get To You
You, like any human, have your limits. You are doing your best, and you can't do your best without balance, self-care, and managing your own life. Taking time away, asking for help, or decreasing your responsibilities as a family caregiver doesn't make you any less loving, caring, or important. And you sure shouldn't feel guilty about it.
Check if Paid Caregiving Is a Possibility
While many people take on the role of a family caregiver in a volunteer capacity, there are some specific programs for paid family caregiving in the US. Depending on your circumstances and the care you provide, this could be an option.
A Typical Family Caregiver Schedule
For the full-time caregiver, your day will most likely start and end before the person you're caring for wakes up and goes to bed at night.
To keep track of exactly what they need, or don't, it can be helpful to create a care schedule. You can also coordinate care schedules across several family caregivers so you can stay more in sync. Group chats can also be a way to manage information between several parties.
In the morning, or the previous night, you'll carefully prepare any medicine that's needed right away or for the entire day. You may help the individual get out of bed, get dressed, make the bed, and get ready for the day. Depending on their mobility, you might help them to cook or eat breakfast, and then clean up.
Day and Evening Care
During the day, time may be spent running errands, making lunch, keeping up with housework, or scheduling appoints. The evening will often look similar to the morning, with making dinner instead of breakfast, grooming before bed, and tidying up the house for the evening.
Elder Home Care offers a more intimate snapshot into everything you might need to do, but know that such care can extend to an individual of any age.
Balancing a Family Caregiver Lifestyle
Some days, balancing your life as a caregiver is more difficult than an Olympic gymnastics balance beam final. With a few of these tips, tricks, and hacks up your sleeve, you'll soon be in gold medal contention for how well you gracefully manage it all.