Carers Week 2020: The challenges of selfless caring for elderly parents
As a working parent of two young children, time and patience are at a premium in our house. And yet time and patience in abundance are what is required to care for a loved one. ‘I don’t know how you do it’ people say. Often, those who care for their relatives don’t know how they do it either – they just do. They can often selflessly plough on, putting one foot in front of the other, without taking sufficient care of themselves or their own wellbeing. So, what can we do to help? Here are some of my thoughts, arising from my own personal experience.
For the past two years, my partner and I have cared for my father, who has a progressive neurological disorder called Multiple System Atrophy (MSA), at our family home. MSA is a rare disease with around 3,300 people in the UK and Ireland currently living with it. It is caused by atrophy of nerve cells in several areas of the brain, which can affect movement, balance and the ability of the body to control internal functions such as regulating blood pressure. A formerly avid reader with an unquenchable thirst for learning and knowledge, my father is now unable to read and write and struggles to maintain his train of thought.
When we took the decision to care for him at our home, it is fair to say that we had no idea how difficult it would be, especially while raising two children under five. But that is the thing with caring responsibilities: they can often fall upon you at unexpected and inopportune moments in your life. COVID-19 has only served to intensify the pressures; with other family members unable to visit to provide respite and with difficulties in explaining social distancing to an often confused father.
The flexibility and kindness of my firm is a huge help. They are fully aware that the flexibility required for working parents should extend just as freely and supportively to those with caring responsibilities. There can be a fear of telling people about your responsibilities, lest they think that it will adversely impact your work. But the converse is true. It is only when you are able to be open and frank with your colleagues that you ensure the best service to your clients at all times, working together to get the best out of all involved. If you want something done, they say, ask a busy person. I can honestly say that the experience has made me a better lawyer; more compassionate, more patient, more focused.
So, what would I say to those who want to help colleagues or friends with caring responsibilities which have become more acute during the pandemic and lockdown? I would urge you to virtually check in – with your camera on! I can’t emphasise enough the value of a friendly, familiar face. Those five minutes chats at your desk, where you moan about the weather or laugh about a recent event, can be more important to people than you think. They can be someone’s release, someone’s tonic. The kindness and warmth of my colleagues over the past few weeks has been invaluable.
And to those caring for loved ones at this strange and unsettling time? I would say that you must make sure you have time and patience with yourself too. Working parent guilt applies just as much to a working carer; should I be spending more time with them? Should I have been more patient when I spoke to them just now? Should I ask someone for help with my responsibilities? Maybe the answer to some of those is yes, but you must remember that you are trying your best. Making time for yourself and doing something you enjoy is important. Work is included in that. If you love what you do, and it brings you joy and fulfilment then it can be just the escape that is needed.
Most of all, I would say that asking for help does not mean you have failed. As a results-driven lawyer, used to being in control and having solutions to problems, I initially felt that asking for help was a demonstration that I wasn’t doing a good enough job. I soon learned that there are many people willing to help, if you just ask. People may not approach you to offer help as they don’t want to offend you by suggesting you need it.
In short, let people help you.
To find out more about Carers Week 2020 and how you can take part and help make caring visible, please see here.
See also our previous Carers Week blogs:
Sarah Harris is a Partner in Kingsley Napley’s Regulatory team.
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