“The holidays are a busy time. I’m looking forward to spending time with family members, but with Mom’s health conditions, I’m worried how to include her in the mix. How can I make caregiving during the holidays meaningful and stress-free for everyone, especially me?”
The Gift of a Happier Holiday
You’re right. Balancing caregiving and the holidays can be a challenge. And given that other members of your family may not have spent time with Mom or Dad recently, they may not be prepared for the changes they’ll see.
Managing expectations at the holidays — for everyone, and especially for yourself — is the answer to a calmer, more enjoyable experience for all. Before family gathers, call or email relatives with an update on what to expect, and share tips on the best ways to communicate and interact with your elderly loved one.
Many family traditions include gift-giving. While it’s certainly a joy to give and to receive, your parent may not need or have space for more material things. One way to get creative with gift-giving is to suggest your family members join you in giving their time rather than costly presents. A simple, shared activity is easier on your time and budget than shopping and creates lasting, meaningful moments. Here are a few idea-starters for you.
Younger children love interacting with their grandparent(s), and a simple craft can be a fun and meaningful activity. You’ll need washable craft paint, plain ball ornaments or art paper.
- Press hands into shallow plates of washable craft paint.
- Collect handprints on ornaments or sheets of paper.
- If using an ornament, add person’s name, glittery paint, or turn fingerprints into a snowman family by drawing in details with colored markers.
- If using paper, cut out handprints and turn them into a homemade “wreath” by gluing to a ring cut from a disposable paper plate. Add bows and a ribbon to hang in an open living space.
Enlist family members and friends in decorating for the holidays. Your parent can participate as much or as little as they’re able to. Don’t rush — provide hot chocolate and sweet treats. Make it an occasion to talk about cherished holiday memories and ask about special items. And set a date when you can take down decorations and store them for next year.
Family members can share the gift of music by researching popular singers and songs from their parent’s/grandparent’s teens and 20s. Listening to that music together is a wonderful opportunity to learn about that time in their life, their likes and dislikes, and what those songs mean to them. Search “top songs from every generation” on the internet to get started.
Joyful and uplifting, singing exercises the body in subtle ways and increases levels of mood-boosting hormones. Host an a cappella family singalong, and with song sheets in hand, your loved one and other family members can join voices for their favorite holiday tunes.
Check with your parent’s place of worship to see if there’s a special social or spiritual program that would be meaningful to attend. Or if you feel your parent or loved one would appreciate it, arrange for their spiritual leader to pay them a visit for a seasonal blessing.
Involve your loved one in preparing traditional holiday treats or foods. Even if they’re not able to participate in the kitchen, they’ll appreciate helping with the tasting.
An evening outing is often fun for older adults who’ve given up driving. Load the family car and go for a drive to admire the holiday lights together. Arboretums and parks often have beautiful displays, so check your local listings.
Colder weather is hard on skin, nails and hair. Men and women alike appreciate the pampering and attention that go with a professional manicure, pedicure or haircut. Whether it’s a group outing or just the two of you, it’s an opportunity to sit back, relax, and enjoy precious moments of relaxation and downtime.
Give Yourself a Break
Above all, take care of yourself during the holidays. It’s OK to find activities that are just for them and don’t involve you. If your parent has a friend at a senior living community, arrange an invitation to the community’s holiday open house. It’s a fun way for them to reconnect and socialize while you take a break from your caregiving duties.
Caregivers tend to put themselves last when it comes to nourishing their mental, physical and spiritual health. You deserve to enjoy the festive season as much as anyone else. Be aware of how you’re feeling, and be alert for signs of burnout. And make sure you give yourself a pat on the back. The gifts you give daily — compassion, patience, dedication, love — are more profound than anything you could ever buy in a store.