Part two in our series on caregiving with intention.
Does the idea of life after caregiving make your insides knot up? Is that because when you read those words your emotions feel like the little metal ball in a pinball machine bouncing from excitement to guilt to relief to sadness?
It’s okay to admit all of those things. One of our core values here at Working Daughter is honesty. So to be completely honest, I sometimes fantasized about what life with no eldercare obligations would feel like. And it sounded pretty darn great. Then I would think about what it would mean if I had no eldercare responsibilities. Of course it would mean I had no parents. So then I would feel sad. And guilty! What kind of an ogre wished away their parents!? Then I’d feel sad again. And then more uncomfortable guilt. And then I ‘d just feel defeated, because when you can’t even be honest with yourself, how are you supposed to cope?
And so, another one of or core values here is nonjudgment. I now know and embrace the fact that we can hold two truths at the same time. We can look forward to the same thing we are dreading. So I don’t judge other working daughters for what they think or feel. I also know that thoughts and feelings are two different things. And therefore we can think about life after caregiving and feel sad about it at the same time.
Why does this matter? Because thinking about life after caregiving can be incredibly beneficial. First, it helps ensure that you have a life to step into when caregiving ends. When we know what we want, we can take the steps to put it in place. Second, our vision for life post-caregiving can serve as a guide for how we conduct ourselves as caregivers. Trying to decide between attending a meeting at work or accompanying a parent to a doctor? When you have a long-term plan, you can run that decision through more than one filter – what’s the impact today and what will the impact be in the future?
Savvy working daughters don’t feel bad about thinking about life after caregiving. Savvy working daughters know that plans can be powerful.
Here are 7 steps to help you plan for life after caregiving:
- Accept where you are. I’ve said it before, and I will say it again. The first step is always acceptance. Before you can plan for the future, you must accept the present. Start where you are. I hear from working daughters at least once a week that their lives are crumbling as a result of caregiving or that life as they know it is on hold. I get it! I felt the same way as I lost more and more traction and influence at work, I argued more frequently with my husband, and I spent less and less time with my kids, and absolutely no time with friends, or exercising or eating well. But lives don’t get placed on hold. Whatever reality you awoke to this morning is your life. You may not like it. You may not have planned it. You may never in your wildest dreams imagined it. But it is your life. So what? Now what? I’ll tell you what: Accept it and make a plan.
- List the major buckets, or categories, of your life and take an honest assessment of each of them. Some to consider are: health, relationships, career, finances, and personal interests. Your health assessment could look like this: I have always taken good care of myself but lately I’ve been developing poor habits and letting my appointments slip. Or, I have never prioritized my health and now I’m worried that my bad habits are catching up with me. I’m worried about the effects of caregiving on my physical and mental well-being.
- Next, set goals. For each of the categories you identified, think about what you want to have in place, as a baseline, when you are no longer actively caregiving. For example, where do you want/need to be financially in the future? If you’re not there yet, then what do you need to do now, in 3 years, in 5 years, to get there? Where do you want to be career-wise? You may not be able to lean in at work now, but is it wise to lean out? And note how your career and financial goals are linked. For example, if you are still building your retirement fund (and remember, each generation is living longer than the previous one, and women are expected to live longer than men!) then that may dictate your career plans.
- Outline the plan. For each category you have identified, list 1-4 things you need to do now, to make your future goals a reality. You are not allowed to list more than 4 per category — this is a plan, not a wish list. If you’re future goal is to be able to reenter the workforce, then what will you due to ensure that happens? Will you freelance? Work part time? Take a course? Maintain your network? If your goal is to ramp up your career post caregiving, do you need to have a conversation with your manager? Take a different assignment? If your goal is to maintain your physical health, do you need to schedule workouts or annual physicals? When you’re done, you should have a list of things that are nonnegotiable in your life – even while caregiving.
- Figure out the shift. So, now that you have a clearer vision for life post caregiving, and how you’ll get there, what needs to shift in your life? If work is a priority and you can’t afford to lose the job you have, maybe you need to find some help with your caregiving duties so you can focus on your job too. If your health is a priority, does that mean it’s time to stop letting your siblings off the hook so you can take care of you? If maintaining a relationship is a priority, and caregiving is straining that relationship today, then where will you carve out time to invest in the other people, besides the one you care for?
- Now think about how you want to feel. You’ve identified wants and needs in major categories of your life, now think about your feelings. When you are no longer a caregiver, how will you want to feel? What will you want your caregiving legacy to be? Will you want to know that you made the best choices possible for your family members, and you? Will you want to know that even while you were in the throes of caring for your parent you were still attentive to your child? Will you want to remember that you couldn’t be there every minute of every day (long distance caregivers and working caregivers listen up!) but when you were there you were completely present and undistracted? Will you be proud to remember that you set your boundaries? Or that you knew your limitations and therefore brought in professionals so that you didn’t get too overwhelmed or frustrated and cranky? There is absolutely no right answer here! The best answer is the one you come up with when you are completely honest with yourself. I will give you this hint though: knowing you did your best, whatever your best may be, knowing you were there, whatever there looks like for you, knowing that you operated with integrity, and knowing you were brave and moved through any hesitation, hurt or fear to be the best caregiver you could in your circumstances, is a great way to feel post caregiving.
- Use your future plan as a filter. Now that you have your plan in place, use it as a filter for making decisions. When you are struggling with prioritizing your own needs with the needs of the person you care for, ask yourself how your decisions will impact you now, and, in the future. Don’t be rigid; a plan after all is only a guide, it’s not absolute. But it can be a powerful tool for caregiving, and living, with intention.
I get it, I do. Caregiving is challenging. But trust me, facing reality, and prioritizing what matters most, helps. It puts you in control of that which you can control. Wishing things would be different only makes you feel more out of control. So go ahead, and create that plan.
“Plans are of little importance, but planning is essential.” ― Winston Churchill
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