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"Normal Life" After Full-Time Caregiving: What It Looks Like for Me

When my mom lived in my home and I cared for her full-time, it felt like it might never end. But a few years later, my mom moved into a senior home. I found myself facing a new transition: Settling back into a life more similar to the one I had before becoming a full-time caregiver.

In my case, I was able to re-enter the workplace, start volunteering with causes that I'm passionate about, and spend time more intentionally with my kids, who at that time were between the ages of 3 and 9.

Going back to work after caregiving can be strange

After many years of being a full-time caregiver, it was jarring to re-enter a previous career. I had spent many years only caring for my loved one with dementia and my kids.

A few months after my mom moved into her senior home, she was completely settled in and thoroughly enjoying her new friends, the robust schedule of activities, and services. I was able to accept a part-time job once my kids started the school year and it was my first time in an office in over 10 years.

Being back at work after that long took time to get readjusted. Thankfully, I started working with an organization of former colleagues and friends who understood and supported my caregiving role.

I didn't have to hide the phone calls from my mom in the middle of the day, though these decreased quite a bit once she moved into a senior home because she was occupied and happy. They were flexible with my schedule so I could still take my mom to doctor appointments as needed.

Even though I felt pressure from myself to perform at the same level I used to, having a supportive work environment allowed me to ease back into a world very different from the life of a full-time dementia caregiver.

Caregiving skills are an asset to volunteer roles

I think it's normal for caregivers to jump right back into a role similar to caring for their loved one. We typically have personalities inclined to helping and caring for others.

So it surprised no one that a few months after my mom moved out, I jumped headfirst into the role of sponsoring a Ukrainian refugee family trying to come to the United States from their conflict-ridden country.

I had spent years wearing many hats as a dementia caregiver: Personal assistant, financial manager, transportation supervisor. I am now a verified expert at filling out paperwork. I turned all of these skills I had honed as a caregiver toward my new volunteer work with this refugee family.

Some of the skills we learn as caregivers are specific to our role with our loved one, but many of them are great assets in other areas of life. I felt a lot of gratitude that my time as a caregiver also continues to benefit others.

After full-time caregiving, take the time to re-invest in relationships

I was also raising my 3 young kids while caring for my mom with dementia - they call us "sandwich" caregivers. For the most part, our children were patient and understanding and I'm thankful that they were able to see the importance of caring for our elderly family members.

But it was still an enormous burden on my kids. There were many times that I had to say no to fun activities I would have ordinarily loved to do with them. I cut out a lot of the extra things that make kids feel loved and special, like long storytimes at bedtime or undivided attention when they got home from school, because my energy was being spent elsewhere.

It seemed I always had appointments or errands my mom needed me to take her to, chores to help her with at the house or I just felt emotionally depleted by the burdens of caregiving. After all the caregiving demands, I couldn't muster the energy to, for example, bake cookies with 3 little kids (and then cheerfully clean up the mess)!

After my mom was settled in her senior home, my kids and I started having fun together again. I said yes to as many things as I could: Impromptu trips to the aquarium or the library, stopping to get a treat on the way home from school, playing board games, or kicking the soccer ball in the yard.

It's okay to enjoy the parts of life outside of caregiving

Caregivers are often waiting for the day when they get to go back to "normal life." But it is hard to say these things. Nobody wants to say that they are glad when a season like this comes to an end, but there is undeniably some relief. And there is a sweetness to being able to put attention that was formerly aimed at caregiving toward something else that is also meaningful.

Caregivers, don't feel guilty for taking back some of the joys from your life outside of caregiving. You only get to live one life, and I believe your loved one would want that joy for you.

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