Have you ever been asked a question you were not expecting that caused you to get a little off balance or uncomfortable? The kind where you are hoping your "inner gasp" is not outwardly evident? That was my experience at a recent leadership conference I attended. The speaker was talking about self-care and posed the question..."How many of you identify primarily as caregivers?" I was perplexed as to why that question caused such a visceral reaction in me. Why did that question make me so uneasy?
The question...when answered with complete honesty...forced me to face and accept my new reality. My old reality was that I had retired, after a successful career that spanned over 30 years, to "help" my mom after the loss of my dad...and to build my own leadership coaching and consulting business. My new reality is that over the last four years that "help" has transitioned to being the primary person responsible for meeting all my mom's needs as dementia, broken bones and other challenges of aging became her "new normal". Despite of all this change and obvious shift in roles and responsibilities, I had intentionally resisted admitting and sharing that I was a primary caregiver. Why? After thoughtful reflection two main themes emerged:
1. From a personal perspective, I was struggling with accepting that my relationship with my mom had changed...permanently. The way we connect, interact, share joy and support each other is much different and I desperately miss how things used to be. Saying I'm her primary caregiver would confirm the situation is irreversible.
2. Professionally, sharing that I was a primary caregiver might have potential clients questioning my commitment to my business and their investment in my services. Any why not? There were moments where I questioned if I could sustain the demands of caregiving and entrepreneurship!
All this thinking and reflecting resulted in an "ah-ha" moment for me, ultimately resulting in a shift in my perspective---the exact thing I often help my clients achieve during our coaching engagements! I realized that this situation, no matter how challenging at times, was providing me growth in leadership areas that had challenged me in the past. And whether applied in my personal or professional life, were helping me be a better daughter, caregiver, coach and entrepreneur. Examples include:
Planning and organization are among my identified strengths. I feel most productive and effective when I have a plan, execute the plan and achieve an excellent outcome. Previously, disruptions to the plan would frustrate me, cause stress, burnout and potentially delayed me in moving in the new direction. Not a favorable trait for a leader in the digital age where things move fast and change all the time! My caregiver role has definitely made me much more adaptable to the changes that happen ...at least on a daily basis. Learning to be flexible, shift priorities quickly, avoid derailment and re-evaluate what an excellent outcome is has been an invaluable developmental opportunity.
In my prior 30+year career, self-care was a "nice to have". I worked it in as much as possible, but it was often the trade-off when things got hectic or demands for my time and attention were given to situations perceived as more critical. As a caregiver, it's a non-negotiable "need to have". I have a regular mindfulness, exercise and social routine that re-energizes and centers me for the more challenging times...which are a guarantee when caregiving. I also have learned I cannot do it all. I have a committed and strong support system that provides the opportunity for me to care for myself...which translates into caring better for my mom.
A familiar mantra in our house when I was growing up was "if you are going to do it...do it right." Since my parents had high standards for us, my translation of that was "do it perfect". As a caregiver, I have developed the ability to do it right and often very good. But the vast majority of situations do not require perfection and I am learning it is a waste of my energy, and too exhausting, for me to strive to achieve perfection. Additionally, that behavior delays me in moving forward on meaningful projects and opportunities. I still strive for excellence...but am more accepting when good is good enough.
Caregiving is hard...no doubt about it. November is National Family Caregivers Month and I honor my fellow caregivers who day in and day out are making sacrifices for their family members. My hope for you is that in the midst of the overwhelm, you have moments where you can see the beauty and rewards that this experience brings. God Bless You!
Wishing you a Journey With Purpose!
11-25-19 Lunch with mom. :)