The Lost Childhood of Caregivers

The lost childhood of caregivers goes unnoticed. If your aging parents retain their memory, you can hash over recollections of past Easters and Thanksgivings. But when parents get dementia, you lose the chance to share remembrances of youth.

Lost Childhood of Caregivers

Today, Easter gave me the opportunity to spend time with kids of all ages. We went to two different Easter celebrations and I got to see the holiday through the eyes of a 14-year old, an 11-year old, a 7-year old and a 5-year old. The teenager was pretty obsessed with her iPhone but she also enjoyed talking about her extra-curricular activities at school. The younger boy showed us the toys he got, fully aware that the Easter bunny played no part in supplying them. But he managed to keep that secret from his littlest cousin. She was totally absorbed with racing around in her sparkly shoes. The kids weren’t playing a game, they were just having fun running up and down the yard.

While I visited other family and friends today, my mom was being cared for by someone else. Since I wasn’t preoccupied with her welfare, I was actually able to take a minute to remember the days when I would run with my cousins on family holidays. We raced each other up hills that seemed enormous, then rolled back down them end to end. That race probably occurred 40 times on holiday afternoons like today’s warm Easter. We kept going until all the special dishes were served. Then we wolfed them down, imprinting our brains with the texture and flavor of foods we’d crave for the rest of our lives.

Do you know how to make your mother’s potato salad or peanut butter eggs? Can you remember your dad’s advice about how to shoot free throws or fix a flat tire? Those matters seem small when we’re overwhelmed, but they’re actually precious and we can’t afford to lose track of them.

Serving as a caregiver immerses us in the routine of meeting our parents most basic needs. In that process it’s easy to lose the pieces of ourself that form the core of our identity. I must act like a parent much of the time, making sure Mom eats right, stays clean, and gets proper medical care. I calibrate my emotions so she always feels supported. I accept the burden of stress so that she might function with difficulties minimized. But I rarely have a minute to recall the sweeter elements of youth and I believe that this is a loss many of us suffer. Although we don’t want to live in the past, we still need to remember who we are and how we got here. Holidays, like today, are especially important for cherishing memories at the root of family love.

Creative Caregiver Solutions

Creative caregiver solutions can help when simple things go wrong. If little problems pile up, our burdens start to feel overwhelming. Those are the times when you really need a break — or a breakthrough — to restore your strength and your sense of humor.

Creative Caregiver Solutions

I find that I’m much better at solving #caregiver problems when I’m not feeling stressed. If I force myself to make the time for a short walk or  brief meditation, I can often regain my perspective. Once I feel restored, it’s easier to come up with helpful ways to deal with pesky matters. Here are some creative responses to common #caregiver problems. Some come from our house and some were suggested by other caregivers.

  • When my mother seems apathetic and won’t engage with me, I put rock and roll music on the CD player and turn up the volume. I tell Mom we’re having a dance party and I move her hands up and around as if we’re jitterbugging. (She’s in a wheelchair). Then I sing, maybe a little off key, at the top of my lungs and pretend I’m a rock star. She usually laughs — but even if she doesn’t, I feel better!
  • Mom’s legs kept slipping between the foot rests on her wheelchair and no amount of adjusting seemed to help. Then a helper spied my orange bungie cords from the Dollar Store. We hooked the outer part of the leg rests together with the $1 bungie. Now Mom’s feet can’t fall between the cracks. Take that, medical equipment store!
  • We discovered that the steel rests on my mom’s wheelchair seemed to irritate the wound on the side of her foot. We tried to soften them with pillows or towels but they kept falling off. One day a friend took a look at the metal rests and said without blinking, “Pipe insulation!” I happened to have some in the laundry room. It was easy to cut the foam down to the right size and fit it over the steel bar. Voila! A soft sided leg rest!
  • During a difficult period with my mom, a caregiver taught me the power of the diaper dance! When your loved one needs a change but resists scheduled bathroom breaks, put the clean Depends on your head and dance around in the silliest possible way. The diaper dance transforms a burdensome situation into a little afternoon comedy. Everybody’s more cooperative when they’re laughing.

Do you have any favorite remedies for common #caregiver problems? Please, share them here, especially if they’re funny. We all need practical ways to address our daily challenges — and most of us could use a laugh.