Caregiving is not for the weak. Nor is it for the perfect. Nope, there is no room for perfection when you are balancing caring for someone sick and/or elderly, working outside the home for pay, perhaps raising children, and trying to maintain some semblance of a life. The key to managing caregiving stress is to strive for good enough.
When you are faced with a to-do list three pages long; when you need to pack lunches, write a sales proposal, pitch a new client, call the insurance company, take your mother for blood work, stop at the pharmacy, and get your son to soccer practice by 4:45, perfection doesn’t work.
It sounds easy enough, doesn’t it? But it’s not so simple, especially for you Type As, you overachievers, you perfectionists. Good enough requires you to make a shift, to loosen up, to let go, to be less, well, perfect. In order to be good enough you’ve got to first change your thinking, then change your words, and finally change your behaviors. Here’s how to be good enough:
Change your thoughts:
A key difference between perfectionism and good enough is how you think about and react to situations. If you think you’re the only one who can take your mother to the grocery store, or dispense her meds, or clean her house, you are wrong. True: no one else will do these things the same way you do. False: your way is the only or best way.
If your father has a non-urgent but important doctor’s appointment on the same day of a really big meeting at work or your daughter’s dance recital, and you think it will be catastrophic for your Dad to miss his appointment, you are wrong. Ask yourself, what is the worst thing that will happen if I postpone? If the answer isn’t Armageddon, then reschedule. A perfect person might think they can be in three places at once, but you are simply good enough. You’ll take him next week.
If you are stressed about the fact you haven’t been home for dinner in three days because your parent is in the ICU, ask yourself will this matter in five years? The answer is no. What will matter is you were with a family member when they were vulnerable and needed an advocate. In five years your kids won’t remember those three dinners. They will remember you were a loving and caring daughter who set a great example for them.
Change your words:
Erase these words from your vocabulary: should, always and never. Any thought that starts with, “I should,” like, “I should stay longer when I visit my mother,” or, “I should deliver a home cooked meal,” or, “I should be more pleasant about collecting a stool sample,” is someone else’s value system playing in your head. There are no shoulds.
Always and never also have no place in the world of good enough. If you catch yourself using the words always and never – “I will never get it all done,” or maybe, “I am always the one who has to…,” you are thinking like a perfectionist. When you are good enough, you know that if something doesn’t go your way, maybe it will the next time.
Change Your Behaviors:
If you really want to be good enough, you need to practice by changing some of your change your behaviors. This might be the most challenging part. Here are some suggestions for you try.
- Leave dirty dishes in the sink overnight. Choose sleep over perfection.
- Don’t make your bed, stop straightening your hair, and ball up your sheets instead of folding them. Use those extra minutes to call someone you care about.
- Order your parents groceries online instead of going to the store even if you can’t get the exact brand of detergent or sauce they like. Use that time to read a book or take a nap.
- If you can only fit in exercise once a week, or for only 8 minutes a day, do it. Forget about that perfect workout. Something is better than nothing.
Give it a try. Go for good enough. It gets easier with practice and it’s an effective strategy for managing caregiver stress.
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