Ruby Baker is part of the Caregiving Advice team. Here, she shares her thoughts on caregiving.
Caregiving has always been part of my family’s experience. I remember my grandma taking care of her sister in her adopted family. She came to all our family gatherings, and my grandma would pick her up to take her out shopping. She would also budget for her so that my great aunt could live as she wanted. As a child, this kind of caregiving relationship seemed like the norm. What I didn’t realize was how much it weighed on my grandma, how much it consumed her.
For my grandma, being a caregiver was not always easy. It was weird to watch my grandma get frustrated with her sister. Usually she is an extremely patient person — my siblings and I are relatively close in age, and my youngest cousin can be a bit of a handful sometimes — but with her sister, we could see she was often more tired than usual, and sometimes snapped at us during holidays.
As I got older, I started to realize why she was so exhausted. Caregiving for my grandma often looked like opening her home to her sister and taking her places so that she wasn’t always stuck in her home, and budgeting for her so that my great aunt had more control over her life. That was as much of her caregiving experience as I witnessed, but it continues to be a popular topic in my family, especially now as my grandma ages as well.
I’ve also noticed this: my mom has always held the mindset that she would take care of my grandma when she couldn’t live on her own any longer. I think that has always weighed on my mom a little bit too, because she saw what caregiving looked like directly and how much it took out of my grandma. She also views it as a responsibility and a duty which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but I do think it creates problems with her sense of self. My mom tends to give too much to other people, at her own expense. Accepting help from others is really tough for her too. I think this will make caregiving quite difficult for my mom.
I feel like there is this large stigma in my family against nursing homes, assisted living communities, or other residential care settings — even professional caregivers (home care). Because I was exposed to it while I was growing up, this stigma makes sense. However, the more research that I’ve done in my work with Michelle & the Caregiving Advice team, the more that I’ve realized how much of yourself goes into caregiving, and how often caregivers can struggle, especially if they’re not in the right mental state to do the work.
I feel like my thoughts on caregiving have changed so much in the past couple of months that I’ve worked on the Caregiving Advice team, and while I’m excited about the things I’ve learned, I feel weird sometimes trying to convey my thoughts to my mom — and even my grandma — because they can be very judgmental and hold onto their beliefs and stigmas. However, the more I learn, the easier it becomes for me to talk about these things and to better prepare my mom to be a caregiver.
Your turn: Readers, what are your thoughts on caregiving? How have they changed over the years and why?