Stress is a normal part of life and during the holidays, stress intensifies for all of us, but especially for caregivers. Everything from self care to patient care to family dynamics turns up the heat during the holidays. The successful caregiver takes a deep breath and approaches it all by dividing up issues and considering practical strategies before the big days on the calendar arrive.
I often start with my family history. Considering the following questions may avoid unnecessary stress when the family gathers.
-What long term alliances among and between family members exist? (For example, does Dad favor his oldest daughter?)
-What communication patterns exist among and between family members? (For example, are your two brothers always jockeying for who knows most about a given topic?)
-How does the family resolve its conflicts? (For example, do people get angry or is humor used to resolve issues?)
-What disagreements or historical events continue to impact the family? (For example, has divorce continued to play a part in family dynamics?)
Answering these questions and anticipating problems will go a long way toward avoiding sensitive issues. Here are some practical actions you can take:
-Identify topics that will promote harmony at the dinner table and beyond.
-Raise topics proactively to keep dinner table conversations focused on positive issues. You can be the facilitator of the conversation!
-Enlist support from family members to help keep conversation flowing.
-Avoid topics that create arguments.
-Draw up a seating chart to suit personalities and promote harmony.
-Determine the optimum time and duration for the family gathering. All day or several day family affairs have more potential for argument than shorter ones.
“What is best for our loved one?” is the key question for caregivers. For families caring for a loved one, ensuring the focus stays on patient needs will avoid squabbles about ‘what dad wants’ or ‘when is the best time to have dinner.’ Simply check in with your loved one to determine what is best for their healing and well being. This is a simple and often overlooked technique!
The holidays are not the best time to resolve financial and responsibility issues surrounding a loved one’s illness and family caregiving. If you are facing key decisions about such questions as “What is the budget?”, “Who will be the contact with the financial advisor?”, “Who will speak for the family?”, or “When do we tell Mom she can’t drive the car?”, try to determine those answers NOW BEFORE the holidays arrive in full force.
Finally, center your festivities around a few meaningful meals and activities. Don’t try elaborate meals or extended activities. Keeping it simple is a key to avoiding undue stress. Have two side dishes instead of five; decorate a five foot tree instead of a ten foot one; set the family gathering for four hours instead of eight.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday season full of positive memories for you and your family. Take pictures and roll that video recorder. Create stories and take walks. Most of all, congratulate yourself and your family on all the successes of the past year.
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Margery Pabst is the co-author of “Enrich Your Caregiving Journey”, a practical guide for the caregiver. She is eCareDiary’s caregiving expert and hosts a monthly radio program sponsored by eCareDiary, “Caregiver and Physician Conversations”. See this website or Margery’s website at www.pivotalcrossings.com for more details.
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