Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Self-Advocacy for Family Caregivers: Four Principles from the National Family Caregivers Association

Magazine article The Exceptional Parent

Self-Advocacy for Family Caregivers: Four Principles from the National Family Caregivers Association

Article excerpt

What does it mean to be a happy person when you are a family caregiver? How do you stand up for yourself, take care of yourself and find a balance between your r?wn needs and those of your loved ones? These are heady questions, and ones we have discussed often at the National Family Caregivers Association (NFCA), because they are at the core of our search for meaning and our need to have a code to live by

We've given form to many of these ideas in NFCA's "Principles of Caregiver Self-Advocacy." They are the fundamental tenets by which we now try to live; we hope that you, too, can use them as guideposts:

1. CHOOSE TO TAKE CHARGE OF YOUR LIFE. We caregivers often feel as if all choice has been taken away. We ask, "Why did my child (or spouse or parent) have to have a disability (or get sick or have an accident)? Why did this happen to our family? Why did it happen to me?" We so often feel out of control.

But having a sense of control, or choice, depends as much on our attitudes as on our circumstances. As long as you are alive and mentally competent, you have the freedom to choose. You may not be able to control the course of a disability or disease, or the effects of an injury, but you can control how you live with it. You can let it take over your life, or you can let your life progress, incorporating your loved one's disability into it. You may not have all the choices you once did, or you may now have to make choices you don't like, but if you recognize your power to choose, and you consciously act on your choices, you won't feel quite as much like a victim anymore.

2. HONOR, VALUE AND LOVE YOURSELF. If you are like most caregivers, you are constantly worn out and questioning yourself, but don't doubt yourself for a minute. You,re doing a great job! And you owe it to yourself to take very good care of yourself and to love yourself.

Think about the safety messages you hear on a plane during takeoff. The flight attendant tells you, "If the cabin loses pressure, an oxygen mask will drop down from the bulkhead. If traveling with a small child, or someone else who needs assistance, put your own mask on first."

That safety message is a metaphor for your life as a caregiver--you can't help someone else if you are gasping for air yourself. You can't give and give without renewing your energy. We fill our cars with gas when they are on empty. Can't we be at least as good to ourselves? …

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