Those who share the ups and downs of your family caregiving journey are family, whether they’re linked to you by blood or by choice. With both traditional and non-traditional family ties, what affects one family member affects all the others.
- Three generations of the Liu family are struggling to cope with their patriarch’s fast developing brain tumor. Members of the immediate and extended clan are in constant contact, yet wonder what they can do to really help.
- Witnessing Rosa Delgado’s dementia is agonizing for her adult children and grandchildren. They’re glad their father and grandfather didn’t live long enough to witness her depressing decline and their heated arguments about how to care for Rosa.
- Eighty-two year old Agnes Klinger never married. Frail and living alone, she now relies on the kindness of friends and neighbors for support. Members of Agnes’ faith community take turns visiting but they worry about what could happen if she falls when she’s alone.
Is your family caring for someone who is ill, disabled or frail? Like the Liu’s or Delgado’s, are you worried or overwhelmed by family caregiving responsibilities? If you need energy and ideas on how to cope, building your family’s resilience can help.
Family resilience: What it is and why it matters
Resilience is the ability to withstand, recover, and sometimes grow when faced with adversity. It is an active process of enduring, successfully coping and bouncing-back after a crisis. It’s also bouncing forward to adjust to a “new normal.” Resilience creates stamina, strength and the capacity to cope, and is present to varying degrees in both individuals and families.
While some families are shattered by crises or chronic stress, others pull together and are strengthened. What distinguishes one from the other is family resilience.
Building your family’s resilience decreases vulnerability to stress; it helps you solve problems, sustains your health, well-being and capacity to care. Fortunately, with attention and practice family resilience can be strengthened.
How Resilient Families Handle Adversity
In Strengthening Family Resilience (2006), Dr. Froma Walsh outlines nine ways that resilient families handle adversity.
- Thinking optimistically: Holding a positive, rather than pessimistic outlook life; recognizing one another’s strengths; offering words of encouragement; accepting what’s beyond control or can’t be changed.
- Finding meaning in adversity: Labeling crises as manageable and shared challenges; accepting difficult feelings as human and understandable under the circumstances; believing in the family’s ability to learn, grow and move beyond this difficult experience.
- Cultivating spirituality: Holding beliefs and values that offer meaning, purpose and connection; finding strength and comfort in cultural or religious traditions; seeking spiritual inspiration in nature, the arts, service to others, and faith in a higher power.
- Being flexible: Adapting to change; adjusting family roles and rules while maintaining rituals and traditions that provide stability; providing children strong, yet nurturing guidance and protection; demonstrating mutual respect in the marital relationship.
- Connecting and collaborating: Pulling together as a team during times of crisis; supporting each other while respecting individual needs, differences and boundaries.
- Tapping their resources: Reaching-out for help when problems can’t be solved on their own; getting assistance from extended family, friends, neighbors, community agencies and/or counseling.
- Openly sharing emotions: Accepting and encouraging a wide range of emotional expression (joy, sadness, fear, silliness, etc.) in adults and children; taking individual responsibility for one’s own feelings and accepting others who have different feelings; valuing positive interactions and humor, even during difficult circumstances.
- Clarity: Communicating in clear, consistent and honest ways; saying what they mean and meaning what they say, so as to avoid sending vague, confusing or mixed messages.
- Collaborative problem solving: Working together to understand problems and ways to solve them; making decisions together; allowing open sharing of disagreements; resolving disagreements through negotiation, compromise and give-and-take; repairing hurts and misunderstandings that go along with conflicts; proactively solving current problems so as to prevent future ones; learning from mistakes.
You can build your family’s resilience by cultivating any of the qualities Walsh identified. For more information on family resiliency, check-out this link: http://www.ces.ncsu.edu/depts/fcs/pdfs/fcs-508.pdf
Gain Energy and Support from Helpful Resources
Family caregiving can be too big a job to handle on your own. If your family is overwhelmed, exhausted or simply very busy, reach out for help from your friends, neighbors or faith community. Local social service agencies and condition-related organizations also offer a wide range of resources; many are free-of-charge.
Start by naming your needs and the people or organizations that could help. Download this “Help Wanted” List. It will clarify your needs and prepare you to respond when someone asks, “How can I help?”
Then, look beyond the people in your life to the rich array of resources available online and in your community. Tap into the expertise of these family caregiver-focused organizations for information and answers to general family caregiving questions:
- Caregiver Action Network: http://www.caregiveraction.org/
- Family Caregiver Alliance: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/
- AARP: http://www.aarp.org/home-family/caregiving/
Visit these sites for more specific resources and questions about:
- Medicare: www.medicare.gov/caregivers
- Different illnesses:
Alzheimer’s Type Dementia – www.alz.org
Huntington’s Disease – www.hdsa.org
Cancer – www.cancer.org
Lou Gehrig’s Disease – www.alsa.org
Diabetes – www.diabetes.org
Parkinson Disease – www.apdaparkinson.org
- Eldercare: www.eldercare.gov or call, toll-free at 1-800-677-1116.
- Care coordination: www.caremanager.org
- Hospice: www.CaringInfo.org
- Safely moving your loved one between different care settings: www.nextstepincare.org
- Caring for a Veteran: www.caregiver.va.gov or call the National Caregiver Support Line (1-855-260-3274)
Reach out when you’re overloaded or unsure of what to do. Don’t withdraw into your own world and struggle alone. There are millions of family caregivers who have gone down the road you’re on and they have created a wealth of resources to help others. Connecting with others can give you and your family positive energy.
Family Practices for Resilient Family Caregivers
While building family resilience isn’t complicated, it can seem too difficult to do, especially when you’re overloaded with responsibilities or overwhelmed with stress. Don’t be discouraged; the investment in building family strength will pay off.
Try these practices and resources to boost your family’s resilience. Whatever you do to foster healthy relationships and strong problem-solving skills will be good for both you and those in your care. As you do so much for others, remember to take good care of yourself, too…Jane