Caregiving for Homeschool Families: Don’t Go Into It Lightly
Homeschool families are notoriously family-friendly, but I’ve recently been hearing questions and concerns about caregiving while homeschooling, so I thought I’d share a few thoughts here. Most of the people who have asked questions have been thinking about their parents or grandparents and have options available other than in-home caregiving, so I’ll mostly address things to consider in deciding whether or not to opt for in-home caregiving.
I was raised by my grandparents, so caregiving arrived early for me. My husband Donald and I cared for my grandfather (actually step-g) from 1989 until he passed on from complications of Alzheimer’s disease in 1993, and have been caring for my grandmother ever since. The observations I’ll share are based on my experiences and those of my caregiving friends during the past couple of decades and may not apply to everyone. Perhaps they’ll help as you consider what might lie ahead for your family.
- You learn to be flexible and patient.
- Your children can become better acquainted with the person you’re caring for, and bless them by helping out.
- You learn that people are more important than perfect schedules.
- If you’re caring for an elder who is still mentally sharp, you can take the opportunity to learn from them.
- You gain friends who understand some of what you’re going through.
- You learn that a sense of humor can make an awkward or unpleasant situation bearable.
- You learn not to rely on yourself, but on the Lord.
- You lose time alone with your husband.
- You lose time with your children.
- You miss out on going places with your family if the person you’re caring for can’t go.
- You lose freedom and flexibility in almost every area of life.
- You lose touch with friends who aren’t similarly tied down.
Challenges You Need to Consider
Do you have a good relationship with the person who will be needing care?
If there are long-standing relationship issues or personality conflicts, and especially if the parent in question is bullying, manipulative, abusive, or otherwise dangerous, it may be best to consider options other than in-home care. The priority in your home must be caring for your husband and children, and that requires focus and emotional energy. If you have no other option than to take a person who is toxic, the Lord will be there for you, but I don’t recommend it if you don’t have to do it.
Does the person want in-home care?
If you’re considering taking in a parent or grandparent who has expressed a preference for an assisted living arrangement, listen to them, especially if you live in an area far from their friends. Loneliness is one of the main problems of old age, and an older person with an active mind may not enjoy being stuck in a house full of children without anyone their own age to socialize with. Don’t override their wishes just because you feel it would be a good and noble thing to do– they’re likely to be miserable and make you miserable as well.
Is your home accessible and suitable for two-family living?
The best arrangement seem to be when the older person has a separate suite of rooms away from the rest of the family. This allows your family a measure of privacy, and gives the older person a place to be quiet and enjoy their own pursuits. Older people tire easily, and the normal noise and rhythm of family life can be too much for them, so having their own place is very helpful. It also allows them to entertain visitors that might drop by just to see them.
If your home isn’t handicapped accessible, you may find yourself needing to make expensive alterations or even move in order to accomodate the elder’s declining capabilities. My grandmother was only 79 when she moved in with us, and she’s 97 now. In the early years, she was able to fix her own meals, tend her flowerbeds, and do little projects, but now she barely gets around with a walker and spends a great deal of time dozing. Halls and doors must be wide enough to accomodate the walker, and at some point, probably a wheelchair, and the bathroom needs to have grab-bars and other safety features.
Do you have a good relationship with your spouse?
Raising a family and homeschooling are two of the most intense things you’ll ever do. While you’re doing it, you have to work extra hard to maintain a solid relationship with your husband, or you can find yourself drowning in daily difficulties and forgetting your primary responsibility (to love your husband– Titus 2). Add in caregiving, and it all becomes more intense. If you don’t have a very solid relationship with your husband to begin with, caregiving will challenge it even more, as you will have very little time together as a couple. If the person you’d be caring for has a difficult personality, it can strain a weak relationship to the breaking point.
Does your spouse support the idea of caregiving?
If you’re considering caregiving and your spouse is opposed to the idea, please stop considering it. Without the unequivocal commitment and support of both husband and wife, the outcome is likely to be negative. This is a huge, stressful, long-term job, and you’ll need each other more than ever in order to survive. If you take on caregiving in opposition to your spouse, it will probably be your children who are most hurt by the fallout, so it’s absolutely not worth it.
Do you and the potential “caregivee” have a sense of humor?
If you both don’t have a sense of humor, you may not be able to navigate the difficult days of dentures, diapers, and dementia without cracking. Some of the stuff you have to put up with is so awful that you just have to laugh. If either one of you lacks a sense of humor, caregiving is likely be very challenging.
Do you love the person you are considering caring for?
If you love the person you’re caring for, you’ll probably be able to get through it, even if there are times when you don’t particularly like them. Even if you have very little in common and find them difficult to get along with, you’ll be able to pass along the grace that the Lord has shown you, and be kind to them even when they aren’t easy to be with.
What kind of an influence will the caregivee be on your family?
If you are considering caring for a parent or grandparent who isn’t saved or who has significantly different values than you do, consider the age of your children and what impact the person’s influence might have on them. Be aware that an overtly hostile non-Christian may not be as bad an influence as someone who claims faith but hasn’t allowed the Lord to lead in his or her life. Attitudes are contagious, so consider in advance how to deal with things like a malicious tongue, impatience, manipulation, a liking for argument, or other negative behaviors.
If you have to deal with a toxic character, do you have a strong support system?
If you find it necessary to care for someone who is abusive, manipulative, bullying, or otherwise dangerous, you need help. A toxic personality will not only stress the caregiver, but will also almost inevitably poison the atmosphere of the entire household. Try to enlist a support system from outside your home to help you cope. This may include people from your church fellowship or community who can give you a break and deflect some of the toxic behavior.
Some Truths About Caregivers
- We’re not perfect, and we know it. We survive by the grace of God.
- Caregivers are like wishbones. We can never do all we need or want to do for one part of the family without shortchanging someone else. I hate hurting anyone’s feelings or leaving anyone out, so I end up feeling slightly guilty a lot of the time.
- Yes, we get tired of caregiving. I hope I live long enough when it’s over to make up for some of what I’ve missed.
- If we had to do it over, would we have done something differently? I don’t think there was an alternative option either then or now, so that’s probably a pointless speculation.
Next article in this series: Advice for Friends of Caregivers