A man caregiving for a woman in a wheelchair.

Caring for Caregivers

Kristen Peairs
July 2, 2024
June 28, 2024

The call came in at 9 pm on a Friday. My dad…my very healthy and active dad…had suffered a stroke. He’d been found unconscious, outside, in the middle of an Ohio winter. The doctors didn’t know if he would live or die. They didn’t know what quality of life he would have if he survived. Thoughts of how this could happen, why him, and what’s next whirled round and round my head.

That was the night my mom became a caregiver.

She acted as my dad’s voice and his advocate for everything from prescriptions to supplements to movement therapies throughout his stay at the hospital, the nursing home, and finally, back at home.

In the years that followed, my dad regained some ability to walk, but he was never able to talk again. My mom stepped into being the head of the household and for the first time in her life, all responsibility for my dad and everything else, rested solely on her shoulders.

While my sisters, relatives, and I were available to provide some support, my mom was the point person and chose to do most of the work herself. It was hard to see her taking on so much. I watched her push and push and push to keep everything in order. She was often tired and overwhelmed. I found myself asking the question, “What is mine to do?” This question, and the inspiration I received in response, gave me the clarity I needed to support both of my parents in ways that worked for me AND them.

In many families, the caring for the caregiver scenario goes very differently. Friends and family give in ways that aren’t aligned with their time, energy, and talents, or they give because they feel guilty, or because they don’t know how to support so they check out and disappear.

I’m here to share that caring for caregivers can be a fulfilling activity for everyone involved. Sometimes it just takes a little extra creativity and permission to do things differently.

General Guidelines for Caring for Caregivers

1. Lead with compassion

Caregivers have a lot going on in their heads and hearts to match all of the things they are responsible for doing. When in their presence, do your best to come from a place of love, compassion, and empathy.

2. Listen

Listen to the caregiver’s thoughts, grumbles, stories, etc. Often, caregivers need to be heard. Once they feel heard, they feel more connected. Also, listening can help you identify opportunities where support might be welcomed.

3. Identify the support you’re willing to give

It might be a card or a hug, it might be daily visits and help with cooking and cleaning, or it might be helping the caregiver strategize and providing resources for getting all the tasks done. If you’re interested in caring for a caregiver, there is always something you can do that will make a difference. One of my favorite questions to ask is, “What is mine to do?”

4. Know your limits of time, attention, and energy

If you don’t have time, then don’t offer time. If you don’t have attention, then don’t offer to listen or watch. If you don’t have energy, then don’t volunteer to do things.

5. Honor your boundaries

Many caregivers are overstretched in so many ways. You may see them suffering so it’s important to remember that it is not your role to fix everything. You can be flexible but know that you have your boundaries in place for your mental, physical, and emotional health. If you don’t honor your boundaries, you, too, are likely to suffer.

6. Be willing to hear the word “No”

Some of the support you offer may be ignored or outright rejected. Unless there is a big safety issue, hear the “No,” and let it be even if it hurts you to watch things continue as they are.

7. Give grace

When it comes to caregiving and supporting caregivers, allow plenty of space for grace. It’s not going to look or feel perfect. Everyone is doing their best. The caregiver may be exhausted and still refuse help. Whatever their reason for their choice, take a deep breath in, let it out, and then let it be.

Kristen Peairs
Kristen Peairs
Kristen Peairs is a Registered Dietitian, Licensed Massage Therapist, and Professional Educator. Throughout her 20-year career, she has worked with many people suffering from a diversity of chronic health conditions. Understanding how food affects the brain and the whole body has been a key factor in the success of her healing strategies. At Nivati, she has researched, written, and filmed over 100 health and wellness videos for their content library. Kristen is currently writing a cookbook for people living with food allergies and intolerances.