Are You Doing Too Much? Here's How to Avoid 'Helicopter Caregiving'
As a caregiver, it's natural to be tuned in, protective, and taking an active interest in what's going on with your loved ones at any given time. It starts innocently enough as the caregiver tries to do a good job taking care of older parents, looking after all his or her needs. Little by little, the caregiver gets buried in to-dos. That caregiver drops out of doing the activities he or she loves, rejects help from others, and ultimately creates unintentional damage to the relationship.
That's the essence of helicopter caregiving. After being thrust into a caregiving role it's all too easy to try to take everything on, but it's possible that you might be doing too much.
Know the Signs
Psychology Today points out that overcaring creates codependency, which is often the source of irritability, stress, anger, arguments, and pain for everyone involved. Recognizing the signs can help you halt helicopter caregiving before it goes too far. Signs you're doing too much while taking care of your older parents include:
- You think you know what's best: If you're pushing to be in charge of every aspect of your loved one's illness and care, you're likely taking away that person's ability to decide the course he or she wants the care to take.
- You're a people pleaser: If you find yourself bending over backwards to please everyone while stifling your own needs and wants, you'll likely end up feeling anger and resentment.
- You assume you know what your loved one's thinking: You're not a mind reader. Acting as if you are will leave you making assumptions that aren't correct instead of working collaboratively.
Caregivers walk a razor-thin line. Total independence may not be possible, but that doesn't mean your loved one doesn't still crave a sense of independence. For many caregivers, it's second nature to step in and do as much as possible or to perform activities on their loved one's behalf to get them accomplished efficiently. That kind of hovering and overdoing is a sure sign of helicopter caregiving.
Step in when it's necessary but step back when your loved ones can handle their business. This is the best way to help them preserve their sense of independence while still supporting aging parents as they age at home. It also provides multiple benefits for your loved ones, including:
- Maintaining a sense of self and feeling like an individual
- Retaining strength and balance, which supports a more active lifestyle
- Providing a sense of purpose and chances to actively contribute to their own lives as well as the lives of people they love
To avoid becoming a helicopter caregiver, it's important to set clear boundaries while assisting aging parents. This will naturally help prevent you from doing too much. It will also help you take better care of yourself and minimize caregiver burnout. Even so, setting boundaries is one of the biggest struggles that many caregivers face.
- Learn how to say "no" and stand by it: Your plate is already full. When someone asks you to do more than you're already doing, you shouldn't feel obligated to do it, even if it's your loved one doing the asking. When someone makes a request you can't comfortably fill, practice saying no. Mean it and stand beside it.
- Manage feelings of guilt: Every caregiver struggles with feeling guilty at some point. The Family Caregiver Alliance recommends giving yourself permission to forgive yourself for any of your perceived shortcomings, failings, or for setting the boundaries you need.
- Make time for yourself, family, and friends: You need time away from your caregiving duties. Schedule time to connect with others and to do something good for yourself, ideally on a daily basis so it becomes part of your routine.
Ask for help:Family, friends, and professional caregivers can help you manage everything that needs to be accomplished while maintaining your boundaries and limitations.