How to Go on Vacation When Mom Needs You

Tips to Help Caregivers Plan for Time Away


You want to get away -- everyone does, at one time or another. And with all the responsibilities you shoulder on a day-to-day basis, you need -- and deserve -- a break. (In fact, if you neglect to take time off to care for yourself, you're likely to suffer from caregiver burnout, a very real problem.)

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But how in the world do you take a vacation when you're on call and on the spot taking care of Mom or another family member? It's a dilemma that every caregiver faces, and there's no question that it's a tough one. However, there are ways to make sure your loved one is safe and comfortable while you get some much-needed R&R. It starts with determination: You need this, you deserve it, and you can make it happen. Then use these strategies, time-tested by caregivers like you.

Prepare her ahead of time.
As far in advance as possible, start talking to your mother or other family member about your upcoming plans. Explain where you're going and the reasons for your trip, and how much you're looking forward to it. After that, frequently tell her how excited you are about your vacation; you might mention details as they develop to help her "see" your plans. Understanding that this is something important to you will help her balance her distress and "buck up" to accept the temporary change.

Ask family and friends to pitch in.
No, it's not always easy to ask for help, but delegating is one of the secrets to surviving the stress of family caregiving. If you're worried that your mother or other family member is going to resist help from someone else, take these steps to get her on board.

  • Let Mom have some say-so. Talk to your loved one about whom she'd like to spend time with while you're gone. Knowing the people she feels most comfortable with will help you choose which tasks to delegate to whom. And even if the people your mom requests aren't available, you've given her some say-so, which will help her feel better.

  • Break up the jobs. Since these responsibilities are new to your supporters, it's best not to overwhelm any one person with too much to remember. Make a list of what you do during a typical week, then next to each item list names of people or services who could take on that task. Grocery shopping? Perhaps a neighbor could do that for you. Driving to appointments? Another family member, friend, or member of your church is a good candidate, or you could set up transportation with a senior transport service in your area. Cooking? Premake some meals, then freeze in single portions and enlist a family member, friend, or paid caregiver to help prepare and clean up.

  • Schedule companionship. While getting the basics covered is top priority, you'll also feel better if your mom has some regular visitors planned during your absence. (Does wonders for caregiver guilt, too.) Now would be a great time for that long-distance visit from your second cousin, or for your mother's church group to take her out to lunch. A few weeks before you leave, spread the word as widely as possible that visitors are needed, and you'll be surprised what materializes.

Hire short-term help.
Most in-home care agencies can provide you with a personal care assistant for the short term; this is often known as respite care. Using an agency saves you the work of finding, hiring, and training someone, so it's a great way to go in a pinch. To find an in-home care agency near you, use our In-Home Care Directory.

Find respite independent living care.
You might be surprised to find out how many independent living, assisted living, and continuing care retirement communities in your area offer short-term room-and-board situations, or respite care. Not only does this option offer the ultimate in peace of mind, it also presents an opportunity for your loved one to experience what an independent living or assisted living facility has to offer. To find out which facilities near you have respite care arrangements, call your Area Agency on Aging or use our Assisted Living Directory.


over 2 years ago, said...

Some thoughts about your article: Caregiver’s Break I agree that it is vitally important to schedule caregiver respite, and that it is best to plan ahead. Sometimes, however, there are last minute opportunities. I was fortunate that I had a good friend who would plan a vacation and invite us to go along. She knew my husband and I were not proactive about doing this for ourselves. Taking a respite vacation requires a lot of preparation. Caregivers need to accept that respite-care-providers might not do everything exactly the same, and be willing to relinquish control. On one occasion, when family could not provide respite for a last-minute request, we utilized nursing home respite provided by hospice. I was labeled as “selfish” for doing that. Later, hospice personnel stressed to family that respite is a service the organization provides because caregivers need the opportunity, saying specifically, “The decision for respite care is 100% the caregiver’s call.” After my caregiving responsibilities ended, my husband and I took a trip. We were driving along when it suddenly dawned on me. “We just walked out of the house!” The sense of freedom was exhilarating.