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Senior Correspondent

A Balancing Act Between Family & Self

One of the topics identified in the recent post, What topics or concerns should I address, is not an easy subject, but one that affects many of us. The question, and the answers, can be emotional and stressful. It  can cause feelings of guilt or even abandonment. Depending on the answer it can also be liberating and empowering.

Question: What is the proper balance between being a caregiver and living a life that is in balance?

There, it is out in the open. The question centers on how much of your life do you sacrifice to fulfill a feeling of responsibility to an aging parent or other relative? Where is it appropriate to draw a line and not feel guilty about your decision? How do you know if codependency affects your decision and relationship?

I wish I could tell you I found a web site that has the perfect answer for everyone. I would love to give anyone struggling with this problem the easy solutions to answer the questions so everyone is happy. Unfortunately, I didn't, so I will have to give you my best shot at an answer.

The question, and the resolution, are very personal to me. My almost 90 year old dad lives alone in an assisted living apartment. He has 24 hour help available for emergencies and regular housekeeping. He eats his meals in a dining room that is just one floor down the elevator, or he has a mini kitchenette if he chooses to prepare something he bought at a small grocery center across the parking lot.

He has no hobbies or interests that fill his time. As he has gotten older and more time has passed since his wife died three years ago, his world has continued to shrink. Now, a typical day is spent reading and napping. He doesn't make friends So, the lunch time visit from Betty and me every 7-10 days is a big deal to him. Even though we don't talk much, he does relish the time together. I handle his finances, get his prescriptions refilled as needed, take him shopping when he needs basics like laundry detergent or deodorant, and provide transportation to doctor appointments. The place he lives does have shuttle service for these needs but he absolutely refuses to use it.

And, therein lies the problem. Betty and I have plans to be RV traveling over two months this summer. In 2015 we want to be on the road even more. I can schedule his doctor visits for when I am in town. I can get one of my daughters to pick up his pills if he needs refills while I am gone. I can help him stock up on enough supplies to last 2-3 months. But, I can't replace the "face time" that is so important to him.

Betty and I have talked about this dilemma quite a bit for the past few years. Up until now, we have chosen to not be gone for more than a few weeks at a time. But, last year, we finally came to the conclusion that being tied so closely to him meant we face the very real risk of running out of time and health to do what is important to us. I am pretty sure he would want us to not sacrifice some of our dreams either.

So, we are going to travel. We are going to be gone for months at a time. To make that separation as easy as possible for dad we will leave him with most of what he needs for the time we are away. We will call often, make sure someone else in the family is available for his shopping needs, and depend on the nurses at his facility to keep a sharp eye on him.

Our solution works because all of our family lives in this area and dad lives in a full service retirement community. There are backup people when needed. But, I know not everyone is so lucky. What if the parent(s) live far away with either no family nearby, or family that can't provide the level of involvement necessary due to declining health? If you have been providing some level of care and involvement but feel you really need time to live your own life, what do you do? How do you balance a commitment to a parent with your needs? Do you have strong feelings of guilt for not being a more active caregiver? Have you asked the person you are taking care of how he or she feels about the situation?

While I did not find a web site that provided all the answers, I did locate one that  can help us all think through our options. With the intriguing name of Tiny Buddha, this site had a list of tips on how to balance our self interest with our desire to sacrifice for others.  Here are some of the better thoughts, as well as a few ideas to bring things back into balance. You can check out the entire article, along with an explanation of each of these points, by clicking the link at the end of this post:

  • Too  much sacrifice can harm relationships.
  • Excessive giving can create internal resentment.
  • Sacrificing is not always helpful.
  • To truly give yourself, you need to take care of yourself.

Now, here are a few steps to find the best balance for you:


  1. Establish your reason for imbalance.  Are you overextending yourself to feel powerful? Or to please everyone? You need to figure this out.
  2. Take a piece of the pie. You can’t give everyone in your life 100 percent, so you likely give your parents, friends, and significant other a percentage of your energy. Consider a piece of that your own, and honor that in your choices.
  3. Think of taking as another form of giving. Everything you get from giving, the people who love you will get the same if you give them a chance to reciprocate. Why not allow them the opportunity to feel helpful and important, too?
  4. Make attempts to repair unbalanced relationships.  you need to address this, either by asking for what you need when you need it or initiating a constructive conversation.
  5. Make a habit of expressing your needs. If you state your expectations, it will be easier for people to meet them.

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