To me, the coming (and going) of Thanksgiving means the official launch of the winter holiday season. Even though it isn’t officially winter yet (that won’t occur until December 21st), it seems the next several weeks will be overrun with shopping, and commercials that urge you to do more shopping, cooking, baking and planning meals and gatherings with friends and family, wrapping, stashing or hiding the gifts and finally cleaning up all the chaos that the season creates.
Too many of us succumb to the expectations that everything will be perfect, it will look like a Hallmark movie and somehow conclude with a romantically snowy evening filled with nostalgia and joy. Truth be told, that’s hardly ever the way our real stories go. For caregivers, there are the added complications that can make the holidays unusually stressful.
When you’re caring for someone in the family (a spouse, a special-needs child or adult, an in-law or your own parent) the holiday season can be particularly unpredictable. Often, things don’t go exactly as planned and the impact on caregivers can be very challenging. Here’s how it sounds in my office when clients share their concerns:
- I’m planning our trip to see relatives out-of-state, but I’m worried she’ll have a meltdown once we’re there because their house will be so chaotic with people she won’t recognize.
- Our grown kids don’t appreciate how much equipment I’d need to bring with us, they want us come to their house (ours is so old and crowded) but I’d need an hour to pack the car before we could leave. If they’re going to see their dad, they need to come to our house!
- The grandkids complain about the odors. I guess I’m so accustomed to all that now that I don’t even notice. They don’t want to be around grandpa because he smells. That’s not something I can control, what do I do? He misses seeing them!
- I just can’t manage the usual decorations this year, my to-do list is so long, there’s no extra room for dressing the house up for holidays!
Even if the loved one you look after is in assisted living or a care facility, there are the extra layers of chores that fall to the primary caregiver to accomplish – decorating her apartment, making sure he has something appropriate to wear to the facility’s holiday party, deciding whether to bring them home for your family gathering – will that be a good idea, or a bad one? There’s no easy answer or management plan that will fit every need.
Self-care in the midst of all this is essential. It will help you get through this long season of celebration successfully and with some reserve of energy for the year ahead. Regardless of your current circumstances, whether you’re in the throes of figuring out what’s best, what’s manageable, what’s wise for your own situation as you honor the holiday season, it is important to ask yourself three questions:
- What really matters to my loved one (the one whose needs I am managing)? Is it time with family, is it a special taste of the season that will make their day? What is that one thing that would convey my love and affection for them?
- What’s realistic in terms of energy & capacity? There’s no sense in planning something that’s outside the range of what’s logical! How long can my loved one enjoy the company of strangers? How much concern must I put on watching her diet, assuring she takes her medications, how this visit will disrupt her sleep? Be honest about your loved one’s bandwidth, and your own!
- What’s absolutely necessary for ME to be satisfied? Yes, YOU! What do YOU need to make the holiday sufficiently memorable, adequately manageable and seriously meaningful? It needn’t be perfect – admitting that it can’t be perfect is essential – but it can be satisfying and good!
It isn’t selfish to figure out what works for you – especially if you’re in charge of making the events of the season suitable and successful for a loved-one who can’t manage on their own. Your needs, your energy level, and your other pressing demands have to be factored in to all the decisions of the season. It’s not wise to let yourself be overwhelmed by the expectations of (yourself and) others.
Let go of the noise and allow yourself to imagine a holiday season that’s NOT perfect, but is sufficiently memorable, adequately manageable and seriously meaningful for all involved. And, last but not least, it is okay to ask for help!
You don’t need to be all things to all people, especially over the holidays! Find some time to appreciate what matters most and celebrate that, first and foremost. Wishing you a splendid winter holiday season! Be sure to let me know if I can help!