Every year on opening day of the neighborhood pool, all the kids under 15 must line up and take “the dive test”. They must demonstrate their ability to swim from ladder to ladder in an order to be allowed to use the diving board for the season. It doesn’t matter that many of the kids have been at the pool since they were born, or that most are also on the swim team – often coached by the lifeguards administering the test, they must do it to obtain permission to freely use the 3 ft springboard.
As I watched these incredibly proficient swimmers take the plunge so to speak it made me think – Why is it that after the age 15 you need not take the dive test? It seems to me there are other situations in life that we should be taking a dive test for, and I will be the first to say caregiving is one of these situations. Since we are using pool analogies anyway caregiving is the ultimate sink or swim situation. Many family caregivers are literally thrown into the situation without warning, without training, and without proper support – no dive test to make sure they can handle it, and no lifeguard there to save the day.
So much focus is often put on the person in care, both by the caregiver and those around them, that the caregiver is often left treading water. It’s a lonely place to be and why I started writing this series about caring for the caregiver. So what can you do to help the caregiver in your life? Let’s talk about that in pool terms shall we?
1. The Lounge Chair – You know when you get to the pool, the first thing you do is stake out the chair situation? Finding the one you like in the shaded or sunny area you prefer. You finally get there and you stake your claim, relaxing and taking in the scene? Caregivers don’t exactly get this luxury – literally or figuratively. Easy it it might be to offer poolside advice to the care-giver, it’s probably better that you don’t. Even though its from a place of good, when a caregiver is living each day trying to keep their head above water, they don’t want to hear what to do differently from land. The best thing to do, ditch the chair and jump in right beside them, even it’s only for an hour.
2. The Dive Test – don’t assume that just because the caregiver is getting from ladder to ladder that they know what they are doing and that it isn’t an epic struggle. So give your caregiver your own dive test. Take a moment to ask them how they became a caregiver (even if you think you know the story), ask them if/how they were prepared, and then be part of the solution. A caregiver need to be seen and needs to be heard. It can do a world of good to their both their emotional and physical well being. So many people think it might be rude to ask, they think the caregiver is probably constantly asked. Here’s the kicker, so many think that, that caregivers are seldom, if ever asked.
3. Be the Lifeguard – The lifeguard is there for emergencies and nobody needs one more than a caregiver. Be the eyes from above, if you see a caregiver struggling then it’s time to blow the whistle. Even if you aren’t totally sure there is a problem, it never hurts to save the day. While you may not be able to jump in and directly help with caregiving duties you can alleviate the day to day – make a meal, do the laundry, bring them a latte, force them outside to take a walk. Don’t ask, just do. It’s time to advocate for more dive tests. Caregivers are literally in the life sustaining business, and we need to make sure they are prepared for the job. It’s not likely that there will be formal training programs for family caregivers anytime soon, so until then, be the support they need.
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