It's Easy to Over Commit When Caring for a Family Member

Last month Dad scared me when he started talking about what we should do next if he couldn't continue to live on this own. He startled me so much that an offer for him to move in with my husband and I came tumbling out of my mouth.

As soon as I said it, I realized that I had gone too far. I couldn't commit my husband in that way without a discussion. In fact I really had no idea what he might say. I couldn't remember that we really ever had a discussion about having a relative move in. If we ever had talked about it before, it was highly theoretical. Now our situation was becoming very real.

My introduction to multi-generational living wasn't much fun. When I was about twelve years old my grandmother would visit my family in California to escape the harsh Missouri winters. My choices were to share my room with my grandmother or sleep in the living room. Since my grandmother snored like a truck driver and I'm a light sleeper, my decision was made for me.

In later years when I had left home for college my grandmother moved in with my parents for good. On holidays and family visits I had plenty of time to observe first hand the lack of privacy my parents and my grandmother experienced. I saw how it could bring out the worst in everyone. I resolved to never live with a relative unless our home had an in-law suite that gave everyone some privacy.

My husband and I had several discussions after I returned home from visiting dad. There are lots of pros and cons for us and for my dad in living together. During my next conversation with dad about the future, he clarified what he really preferred. He wants to stay in the community he is currently living in, he is feeling better after being ill in January and doesn't need any help right now and he would prefer not to live with family by staying in his own home or moving to a senior community. This time I was able to gracefully avoid what might have been an over commitment on my part.

I know the risks of making a grand gesture when it comes to caring for a friend or relative. Easily 80% of my practice as The Eldercare Coach is helping people untangle themselves when they over commit in an eldercare situation. Many times eldercare responsibilities grow gradually. It can be difficult to know that you have overcommitted until you feel overwhelmed. Untangling an overcommitted, stressed out caregiver is not easy.

Signs that you are overcommitted

  • Even minor problems leave you feeling upset.
  • You fantasize about running away, moving away or getting free from your current responsibilities.
  • You are grouchy and taking it out on friends, family and the person you are caring for.
  • You fall into bed exhausted each night and wake up tired the next day.

When you realize that you are overcommitted

  • Stop kidding yourself that if you just make it through your big project at work, your parents hospitalization or to the end of the school year that everything will be better.
  • Begin to take baby steps to reduce your activities and commitments.
  • Make a list of everything you do.
  • Identify items that someone else can do. (Please note this is not a quick fix. It takes time and patience to find, train and truly delegate one of your responsibilities.)
  • Stick with your process of getting help and shedding responsibilities. You probably didn't get into this problem overnight. It will take time to untangle and re-balance.

Preventing overwhelm

  • Consider caregiving a team sport. Ask family and friends to help you from the very beginning. Use professional caregivers and community services to support you and your family member.
  • Check in with yourself every couple of weeks to see how you are feeling. If you begin to see the signs of being overcommitted start taking steps to identify activities and commitments you can delegate or drop.
  • Be cautious and take a time out from saying yes to requests from others.
  • Be sure to include some things that you enjoy on your list of must do activities.

Have you found yourself in a bind trying to balance your caregiving responsibilities with the rest of your life? How do you cope?