What I Wish I'd Known About Caregiver Burnout, From Author Barbara McVicker

The coauthor of a book of tips for caregivers talks about caring for yourself while you're caring for your parents.

During the ten years that Barbara McVicker was caring for her parents, working, and raising a family, she never took a day off. Impressive? McVicker -- who, with her daughter, Darby McVicker Puglielli, compiled caregivers' tales in Stuck in the Middle: Shared Stories and Tips for Caregiving Your Elderly Parents -- isn't bragging. She'd like nothing more than to see other caregivers learn from her mistake.

During much of that time, McVicker says, she was so busy cooking, cleaning, paying bills, and mowing her parents' lawn that she didn't really have time for them, much less for herself. In fact, she didn't even remember how to take time for herself.

"I remember driving away from their house one day, and I thought, 'You know, I deserve something special today,'" she says. "So I went through a list of things of things I could do. I could go shopping -- but I don't like shopping. That's not something I do even on good days. Then I thought, 'Well, I could get ice cream. No, I'll have to exercise three hours longer.' So you know what I did for myself? I stopped and got a decaffeinated coffee. That's how bad it was."

McVicker wishes she'd understood the importance of taking days of respite for mental as well as physical health. "I was there every day because I thought that's what a good daughter did. I never said, 'I'm not going to let caregiving encroach on my mind today. Today is my day to be with my nuclear family or my day of mental vacation. Today is my parent-free day.' I wish I'd felt I had the right to do that. Between having them in my mind 24-7 and being physically there on a day-to-day basis, I lost energy and zeal for life. When we look back on it, my kids say, 'Mom, you quit laughing.'"

Although she never got around to making time for herself, McVicker did find a way -- when her mother eventually moved into an assisted living residency -- to spend better time with her mom and improve what had always been a difficult relationship. Relieved of some of the chores and errands of caregiving, McVicker had more time to visit with her.

"As adult children, we dread moving our parents," McVicker says. "But once she got in and acclimated, it was the best four years of her life and my life. We took walks, we giggled. I could just be with her, and in many ways, that's just what she had wanted from me."

Read the full interview with Barbara McVicker.

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