Five Self-Care Tips for Third-Tri Caregivers

Apr 11, 2022 | Caretaking, Health Challenges, Life Stages | 0 comments

In our third tri, most of us will become intimately familiar with the swirling emotions, unbelievable stress, and sacrificial service inherent in giving and/or receiving care. Because of a random conversation I had this week, I’ve decided to focus my blogpost on this peculiarly difficult stage of life.

I hesitate to use the word caretaking because the term seems somehow sadly disrespectful to the one receiving care, while likewise diminishing the immensity of the caregiver’s role.  My thesaurus doesn’t offer good alternative words for caretaker or caregiver—only sterile sounding ones such as custodian, guardian, superintendent, keeper, curator, watchman, and nurse.

When our kids were infants and toddlers, it was obvious they needed our care if they were to survive and thrive.  Yet, few of us would have described our job as “caretaking.” Instead, we called our exhausting efforts “mothering” orparenting.” Now some of you are experiencing a role reversal because your mothers or fathers need you to take care of them. Or, you may be needing to care for your husband in decline, after taking care of each other during the previous fifty years.

Could we rename our changed roles not as “caretaking,” but as mature “daughtering” or compassionate “wifing?” Ideally, we are talking about viewing our changed relationships as the beautiful end stage of family love. However, living out our ideals is often terribly hard on a day-to-day basis. The person we love may be breaking our hearts in a million pieces as we lose them bit by bit to cruel diseases such as cancer or Alzheimer’s, frustrating and exhausting us during the excruciating process.

I asked Vicky, the 50-something single woman spilling her heart to me, how things were going since she’d invited her mother to move into Vicky’s small home five months ago. Her mother had spent the previous 35 years in her own house, caring for Vicky’s mentally-challenged brother until his recent unexpected death. Mom performed all the functions for her disabled son that are supposedly synonyms to “caretaker” (guardian, custodian, watchman, keeper, and nurse). Because of her brother’s disabilities and defiance, Mom’s life has been hard.

Vicky wanted to help, so after her brother passed, Vicky offered to let her financially-strapped mother move in with her. Vicky gave up her spacious bedroom, walk-in closet, private bathroom, and patio outside the master bedroom’s sliding doors to her mom, moving into the dark, tiny spare room Vicky had previously used mostly for storage.

Vicky was shocked to learn her mother now refuses to cook or do any housework, although she’d been preparing food for her brother up until the day he died. Mom has turned obstinate, choosing to do the opposite of most things Vicky sensibly suggests. Vicky began to cry as she described how fearful she was for the well-being of her dog. Despite Vicky’s warnings, Mom insists on putting Vicky’s miniature pet outside unprotected, where it could easily become prey to roaming hawks.

Since Mom is a diabetic, Vicky constantly worries about her mother’s blood sugar levels. She discovered her mom secretly hides or disposes of the healthy meals Vicky prepares and leaves for her before she goes to work. On top of Vicky’s home life now becoming anything but serene, Vicky’s income is in jeopardy because of the scarcity and rising costs of chemicals she needs for her pool cleaning business. It just seems too much. “It’s what it is,” Vicky repeated over and over, as the tears trickled. No respite, no solutions, constant anxiety, endless misery ahead–these are all she can see. “It’s what it is!

What possible encouragement can I give? Books such as The 36-Hour Day by Nancy Mace and Peter Rabins pull no punches in describing how challenging compassionate “daughtering” or “’wifing” can be.  The authors offer helpful ideas especially pertinent to those who love parents or spouses afflicted with Alzheimer’s or dementia.

I will also share five meager suggestions that helped me when I lived for many years as a “covenant-keeping wife” with a husband in desperate physical condition.  These steps didn’t make life easy, but did prevent my total collapse. I found if I paced myself by prioritizing five practical behaviors, I could keep going.  It’s like running a long marathon, and you don’t want to burn our early.


Five commonsense self-care suggestions:

  • Protect your own 7-8 hours of sleep at night if you possibly can. Since restorative sleep is required to meet the next day’s demands, decisions to not sleep in the same room with your loved one, although heart-wrenching, may be necessary. Choose to crawl into your bed and go to sleep instead of dozing while watching TV “to relax.” Consider any money you spend for outside helpers as put to best use when those hired helpers provide the opportunity for you to sleep uninterrupted.
  • Humbly accept all offers of help for an hour, a day, or a week-end to give you a break. Use time when others are interacting with your loved one to get out of the house and into nature, if possible. Your body needs sunlight, sleep, and exercise to deal with your stress. If you make your exercise a brisk prayer walk, all the better. If others volunteer to run errands for you, say “yes,” and don’t be ashamed to tell people what you need.
  • Talk to kind friends, family members, support group members, and professionals who understand your unrelenting challenges. Many people will not understand, so don’t complain to them. They will only make you feel worse with their flippant, “Take care of yourself” brush-offs. You may even feel irritated because taking care of yourself strikes you as supremely impossible. The five tips listed here are important basic steps toward that elusive self-care goal.
  • Watch what you eat and drink, so you are well-nourished by healthy plant foods and plenty of water. We crave ice cream, sodas, candy, and chips when stressed, but those foods lead to more body inflammation and ultimate energy depletion. Take a minute to enjoy the beautiful colors of a plate filled with vibrant greens, black beans or other legumes, yellow, orange, and red vegetables. Choose walnuts or almonds, along with blueberries, strawberries, oranges, watermelon, grapes, and apple slices for snacks or dessert.
  • Ruthlessly start your day by renewing your perspective with Jesus in the Word. It is the one time all day when you will feel truly peaceful.


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