How do you take a vacation when caregiving never stops? You may get two, three, or more weeks of paid time off from your “day job,” but unpaid, family caregiving is a 24 hour a day, 365 days a year job.
To answer that question, let’s start by defining vacation.
When you think of a vacation, do you think of a week on the beach, with an umbrella over your chair and in your drink? Or do you imagine a trek across Nepal, or maybe a week in Paris? If that’s your idea of a vacation, and you are a family caregiver, then it’s time to research respite care or learn how to ask for help. You can also ask a family member of friend to fill in or hire a temporary license home care aide. You can take that dream vacation, you just need to put a plan in place.
Give your elderly parent notice that you will be going away for a brief period of time. You do not want to surprise them. At the same time, don’t feel obligated to explain your decision. You deserve a vacation and you do not need to justify that. If you are hiring temporary help, let your parent help choose the caregiver. After all, they are the one receiving the care.
If your idea of a vacation is just a break from the intensity and pace of managing both career and caregiving, or if you don’t have the means for a trip, you can enjoy your vacation from your paid work, even while continuing your caregiving duties. Focus on the fact that one of your many jobs is on hold for a few days and build in some me-time during the week. Again, no need to explain to your parent that you are doing something for yourself – you’ve earned the time and the reward. Consider hiring someone to run errands or clean your house while you read good books, or bing watch a great series on tv, or maybe treat yourself to movies and lunch. Or nap! Vacations don’t have to be all or nothing; you can build a mini-vacation into almost any scenario. The key to the mini or staycation though is planning ahead. Know how you are going to spend your precious time in advance or you may find end up doing nothing because you had too many choices and couldn’t decide.
Regardless of what kind of vacation you plan, you need to know you deserve it. So often caregivers feel guilty about putting themselves first. Repeat after me, “I deserve to enjoy myself. I will be a better caregiver if I take care of my own needs.” Now say it again.
You also need to know, you are not all powerful. So many caregivers worry about what might go wrong if they take a break. The reality is, something could go wrong anytime, anywhere. It’s also quite likely nothing will go wrong. You are absolutely useful and essential as a caregiver. You are not in control of every situation. Arrange reliable, safe, quality, backup care. Communicate your parent’s needs to the temporary caregiver. Communicate how long you will be gone and how you can be reached in an emergency. Know that your parent will not be cared for the way you care for them. Know that is okay; your way is not the only way. Know that your parent may not like you leaving them with someone else and may say things that fuels your feeling guilty. Also know that what matters is they are safe and cared for, that you need and deserve a break, and that your vacation is for a brief and finite time. And then go and enjoy. You earned it.