Caregiving in the Now

By Karen Johnson

This past Mother’s Day has been significant for me, as I cherished my time with my mother. As a new mom and daughter to aging parents, I am at a crucial transitional point in my caregiving journey. While I am blessed to still have two living parents who are still of sound mind and health, the reality is setting in that I dont have forever with them. Here are some mindset shifts I am learning throughout this process that I hope you will find helpful!

I am being honest about my feelings. 

As children, we often see our parents as superhuman while growing up. As a child of Jamaican immigrants who came to the United States and made a way with few resources, I have watched my parents work incredibly hard.  I saw my mother wake up while the morning was still dark and iron my dad’s work shirts to perfection, all while she was a teacher, went to school full-time, and took care of us. My dad worked six days a week as he built his business while picking us up from school and carting us back and forth to youth choir practices. And they somehow had the energy for it all. 

Now I notice that they walk a little slower, their eyesight is not as crisp, and their thoughts are not as sharp. I am at the point in my life when I realize my parents are truly starting to age, which has me evaluating what is truly important. 

I am embracing my caregiving role early.

My sister and I find ourselves leaning into our caregiving roles more and more. Although we are not actively providing significant care for my parents, I realize the caregiving starts now, even before dealing with major medical events. 

Caregiving can look like driving an hour and a half each way to take my father to urgent care when he does not feel well enough to drive home and filling in additional details he may have missed when the doctor asked about his symptoms. 

Caregiving can also look like encouraging my parents to get regular checkups and be more mindful of symptoms as they age; or encouraging my mom to sit down and realize that a spotless kitchen can wait as she gets some rest. Or knowing the signs of her experiencing low blood sugar as a diabetic. 

As my parents age, I naturally lean into the caregiver role. It is okay to embrace that!

I am focusing on experiences rather than possessions. 

Many of us can say that our parents have gathered enough “things” in their lifetime. I have made it a point to focus on experiences with my parents rather than material things. This can look like:

  • Encouraging my mom to spend a few more days with her sister instead of rushing home to help with childcare. 
  • A day trip to a beach  instead of buying some new shoes
  • Laying with my mom in bed “just because” she watches her favorite court show
  • Allowing them to spoil my toddler just a little bit more 🙂

Experiences are what you remember. Cleaning the home of a loved one who has passed on has shown me that memories are far more valuable than material things, especially later on in life. 

I am building bonds and relationships with my family NOW.

When a parent requires caregiving, your family is often all you have to lean on. My sister and I have been learning to add “care partners” to things we are for each other. We will make major life-changing decisions, so we must learn to trust each other and lean into each other’s strengths. 

I am more business-oriented, the one who will ensure all the paperwork is handled. I am level-minded and clear-headed (most of the time!) and can remain calm in challenging situations. My sister is the nurturer and fiercely protective.  She will pack water, snacks, and protein shakes for my parents and knows the right questions to ask the doctors. She will fend off anyone, including family, friends, or foes disturbing the peace. 

We are learning to lean on our strengths, are transparent when scared or doubtful, and have open conversations about our feelings. We talk out difficult situations and come to an understanding. Develop these relationships. These are the people who will be there when times get tough.

We are having tough conversations now, not later.

Having discussions about end-of-life logistics can be tough. However, these conversations are lighter when our parents are of sound mind and health. Even little things like knowing their phone passwords can make a difference. Ease of access to important information is crucial!

It is also essential to know your capacity as a future caregiver. What does your employer offer? What are your options for FMLA? Do you have options to go part-time at work? How can you put yourself in a financial capacity to fall back at work when needed? These are all things we will begin planning for now.  My family must continue to have those discussions.

Even as I write this, I hear my daughter laughing with her grandmother. I know these days won’t last forever, but I will enjoy them while I can. Although the thought that my parents are in the last season of their lives is still hard to swallow, the positive is that we are in the now. 

Amarii and Grandma

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