Caring for Loved Ones in Your Home
As a girl, I enjoyed reading the Cherry Ames nurse series, but I didn’t enter the medical field. I have no special aptitude or training for patient care. Like most moms, I’ve bandaged boo-boos and nursed sick little ones. One of our sons suffered from asthma and another with Type 1 diabetes. But other than that, I have no particular inclination or gift for caregiving.
Enter real life: sometimes God calls us to do things we’re not trained or talented for just to show His faithfulness. Over the years we have welcomed several aging relatives into our home. My husband’s aunt was blind for two months and lived with us until surgery corrected her vision. My mother lived with us during her final nine months while fighting Waldenstrom’s macroglobulinemia, a rare form of blood cancer. My mother-in-law lived with us for 5½ years while suffering from dementia.
Despite my lack of interest or training as a caregiver, God has called my husband and me to demonstrate obedience to the fifth commandment. We have been called to honor our parents by caring for them in our home.
Here are some thoughts and tips that have been helpful to us as we’ve adjusted to having precious elderly relatives in our home.
Slow down. I believe God helps us women to slow down during late pregnancy so we will be ready for the slower pace of including children in our lives. It simply takes more time to do each thing, doesn’t it? When serving meals, solid foods have to be cut into smaller bites. Laundry is an on-going challenge.
With little ones you can’t just say, “Let’s go!” and walk out the door. You have to plan around nap and meal times. You have to make sure the diapers are changed, the bathroom is visited, and the diaper bag and sippy cups are packed.
Having a toddler prepares you for caring for the elderly. You will find that older adults take longer to do most things, too. They walk slower, eat slower, and, sometimes, think and make decisions slower. Mother’s illness made her extremely tired. She would bathe, and then rest; get dressed, and then rest; eat breakfast, and then rest. We needed to allow at least an extra hour to get off to church on Sundays.
If you are accustomed to moving quickly through your day, God will teach you patience when you bring Grandma[i] into your home. Don’t try to cram a full cycle of errands into one morning. Spread them out over a few days or run errands while someone else can sit with Grandma.
But don’t totally isolate her from the pleasures of shopping either. This was a normal part of her life. If she is up to it, a short trip to the grocery store may bring great pleasure. Use the special carts available in most stores to conserve her energy, even if she doesn’t ordinarily use a wheelchair. Go home before she gets tired.
Let her do what she can, while she can. Never forget that she is an adult. Don’t treat her like a child, even if you have to do many of the things for her that you do for your children. Let her help you, even if it’s only opening the door for you as you carry in groceries.
Respect her opinions. Let her decide how to decorate her room; you can always repaint it later. Allow her to bring in some of her favorite Christmas decorations to blend with yours. Place her favorite snacks where she can easily access them without having to ask you for every little thing. Cultivate as much independence as she is capable of at this point in her life.
Teach your children how to help. Help your children to understand Grandma’s limitations and abilities. Be especially aware of tripping hazards such as toys on the floor. Include Grandma in your daily activities as much as possible, especially your family Bible time. If she is able, ask her to help with homeschooling in some way: grading papers, hearing a new reader read his lesson, drilling spelling words, telling stories from her past that children can use for narration exercises, and more.
Realize that caring for Grandma is a part of your children’s homeschooling curriculum. God knows that meeting her needs is going to change what you are able to do with your children. You may not be able to participate in every field trip and out-of-home activity for awhile. That’s okay. The character that is developed during these days will carry them farther than all the academics you can stuff into their days. Relax!
Consider her social needs. It is likely that Grandma will enjoy having you and your children around. But there will be times that she misses visiting with others her own age who remember the same things she does. If possible, arrange for her to spend time with her friends, or help her to make a few new friends if she has moved from a distance. Perhaps you could host a tea party so her friends can see her in her new home. Even helping her chat on the phone or write letters or emails to her friends can help her not to feel so isolated.
Most communities have senior centers that welcome newcomers. If she is up to it, she may enjoy doing some volunteer work in the community or at church.
Take care of yourself. Realize that you’ve taken on a time-intensive job. Not only direct care, but administrative duties such as making appointments, filing and following up on insurance claims, ordering and administering medications, preparing taxes and other legal forms, and many other duties will eat away at your days. Again, allow her to do what she is able to do, but be prepared to step in when needed.
You cannot help Grandma if you aren’t healthy yourself. Get enough rest, even if that means having someone come in for the night shift. Take time to get necessary medical and dental care for yourself, not just for Grandma and the children. And, above all, don’t skimp on time alone with the Lord. You need this more than ever, and your family Bible time isn’t enough; meet with the Lord privately to get His marching orders for your new day.
Teach your husband how to support you and how to refill your love tank.[ii] Forgive yourself for times when you are impatient, short-tempered, and are not sure you can (or want to) face another day. God is growing fruit in you and this happens not on the mountain tops but down in the valleys. He really does know who you are, where you live, and what you need.[iii]
Caregiving comes more naturally to some personality types[iv] than to others. It certainly has been a challenge for me. But I can testify that God’s grace is abundant to meet our needs. He will give us grace and wisdom and stamina to do what He has called us to do.
©2012 by Marcia K. Washburn. Rev. 2018. All rights reserved.
[i] For convenience, I will refer to the elderly person as a female, although many of us will care for elderly men, too.
[ii] See The Five Love Languages: The Secret to Love That Lasts by Gary Chapman (Northfield Press: 2012)
[iv] See Transformed Temperaments by Tim LaHaye (Living Books: 1993).
For more stories and strategies for caregivers, check out Marcia’s book,
Home-Based Eldercare: Stories & Strategies for Caregivers here.