Entering the role of caregiver is a big life transition. It’s bigger than leaving home to attend college, or getting your first apartment. It’s a change of life that ranks up there with getting married, or having a child. Despite the significance of the transition into caregiving, the struggles and requirements of that act of transition are not often discussed. This is unfortunate because many caregivers find the transition into their new role extremely challenging and find themselves asking, “Why didn’t anyone tell me it would be like that?”
So a few words on what it will be like and how to prepare.
Probably the closest comparison to becoming a caregiver for an adult in your life–whether spouse or parent or someone else–is the somewhat similar act of becoming a parent. They are not exactly the same kind of transition in roles–having a child born into your family is an occasion of joy, having someone you love fall ill and need care is not–but the similarity is that you are caring for that newborn child much as you are caring for an older adult in need of help. While the situations are not identical, it is helpful to reflect on some comparisons. Becoming a new parent is hard, life altering. But it is incredibly important. Although becoming a caregiver for an ill adult is not as celebrated in our culture, it is just as hard and just as important. Remember that.
Becoming a caregiver is a big change, and while some things are added to your life by this new role there are other things which are lost. You will need to process this change over time. You may go through a grieving process as you become a caregiver–grieving over the sickness in the person in your care and also over what you have lost in your own life–opportunities and abilities given up to take this role of caregiver.
It is natural for it to take time to process this change, and it is okay to grieve.
As you come into the role of caregiver you will face disappointments. You might battle depression. You are not alone in facing these struggles. The disappointments we experience in caregiving, or the unexpected reality of depression, can make people ashamed. This leads to hidden struggles which cannot be dealt with in a healthy way. The transition to caregiver is significant, and sometimes the disappointments can be significant, too. It is okay to face disappointment.
Have safe people you can talk with. One of the best ways to facilitate a good transition into the role of caregiver is the presence of people who can help you process and face the change, and be with you in the struggle. People who know the role of caregiver from personal experience can offer a practiced listening ear and encouraging words.
As you enter this new role of caregiver, have something to ground you. It might be a safe space, something familiar, a routine, a bit of your old life–for everyone it is something unique. But we all need a reminder of who we are, something to anchor us in the midst of all the turbulence of the change in our life. For me, bringing old habits of my life into the new role of caregiver helped me feel like I had not completely lost myself.
Finally, I can assure you there will eventually be a new normal. Becoming a caregiver can so upend life that in the midst of all the turmoil it can feel like normal has been lost forever. Yes, the old normal has been lost. Your life has changed. This is incredibly scary. But a new normal is coming. It will take time for it to arrive and for you to find it. But it will come. Don’t be afraid to share your struggle to find that new normal.
Transitions in life are daunting. Transitioning into the role of caregiver takes courage, strength, and perseverance. We all make mistakes along the way, but with help we can make it–perhaps a little more battered, but also a little wiser and kinder.