Blog Caregivers - don't become control freaks

When you're a primary caregiver responsible for the well-being of your father, mother, or another person, it's easy to become obsessed with the details. For example, you want to make sure your dad isn't eating rotten food, so you smell everything in his refrigerator. You note that your mom's hair is oily and stringy, so you insist she let you wash it. "And take off that blouse you've been wearing all week and put on a clean one," you add.

I'm not sure if it's a trait of all caregivers, but I was some control freak when, as a student, I was responsible for the care of a patient who lived in an assisted-living facility nearby. I kept a sharp eye out for his special needs—like making sure there were facial tissues and toilet paper in the bathroom. With his severe short-term memory loss, he certainly wouldn't remember to restock those items, and I didn't want him reaching for a hand towel to wipe with—or worse yet, not wipe at all!

So perhaps the controlling started with the best of intentions to make things better for that person, but I think it escalated to excess. Not only was I obsessed with perfection, but I expected everyone else to take care of that person exactly the way I would.  

Yet, what that person really loved about visits from his family and friends was playing with them, cards for example. That's what meant something to that person when someone visited, not the fact that they made sure his laundry was done. But, of course, he loved to play cards with me, too, and sometimes I'm afraid I was so obsessed with the housekeeping that I neglected his simple need for my companionship.

I was so good at managing that person's life that I sometimes overstepped and did things for him that he could have done for himself. For example, one time, someone sent him a tin of cookies wrapped tightly in tape, and as I saw him struggle to get it off, I was about to grab the tin out of his hands. Fortunately, I held back that time, and he had the satisfaction of opening it himself. It may take longer for our loved ones to do things for themselves, but whenever possible, we should let them.

The times that I remember best now that this man has passed away are not the hours I spent taking him to doctors or dealing with housekeeping issues. Instead, the times I remember best are the ones that made him happy in a special way, the days we shared doing fun things.

Now, I'm not saying that housekeeping, grooming, and doctor's visits aren't important. But, of course, I helped the quality of his life by paying attention to these details. As a primary caregiver, you have to pay attention to those things, and I guess that's what contributes to our becoming control freaks.

But it's also important to relax and let go at times. If you are tense, in a hurry, and always focused on managing your loved ones' lives, you will miss out on the opportunity to share more meaningful experiences with them. You don't know how many of those opportunities you'll have, and you won't want to look back and regret missing them. So stop. Sit down. Have a cup of tea and just be together.

Yes, I learned a lot since that time as a student. Now I focus with my caregiver company on well-being a lot. That is what counts. This is what you both will remember: the fun and pleasant experiences, not the washing of the greasy hair.


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