Sunday, April 19, 2009

Choosing Your Battles

Finish each day and be done with it.
You have done what you could.

Tomorrow is a new day;

begin it well and serenely and

with too high a spirit

to be encumbered with your old nonsense.


—Ralph Waldo Emerson





How much of yourself will you give? Which battles are worth waging? These are common considerations in caregiving. When you feel your energy rise, pumping you up to deal with a new issue, in that moment you have a choice as to the extent and nature of your response.

In ordinary times, unmet expectations are trouble. The high emotional stakes in caregiving can make the smallest issues loom larger. Expectations can make us lose sight of our goals.


A sibling forgetting to visit feels outrageous. The elusiveness of a doctor or administrator seems insupportable. If your expectations escalate a circumstance to the level of an issue, question your expectations. Are they useful? Are they realistic and aligned with your priorities.


To manage your caregiving expectations, it can help to prioritize your caregiving issues. Apportion the amount of energy you give to each based on its priority. Try this little exercise each time you find yourself girding your loins for battle. First, before doing anything, ask yourself, Is this issue appropriately mine to handle? It can be easy to take over other people’s business without thinking twice.

Then, make a Caregiving Priorities list. It might include the health of your elder, the well-being of your family, or your own sanity. Bottom line stuff. Now, with your priorities in mind, rate the impending issue on a scale with “Critical” at one end, and “No Big Deal” at the other. How much energy does your current issue deserve in the greater caregiving scheme of things?

You can adjust your expectations or change your priorities at any point. Then, when you recognize a legitimately critical issue, you take your stand.

The way you tackle issues determines your success. First, be able to simply articulate your goal and your terms of satisfaction; Know that you probably don’t know all the details; Speak respectfully and negotiate whenever possible. If the issue is unresolvable, acknowledge it, adjust your priorities, and move on. Unresolved issues are energy sinks. Don’t let them hang around.
When you save your energy for resolvable important issues, more of you is left available
for your elder, your family, and yourself.

1 comment:

John O'Leary said...

Great post, Holly. Coincidentally, I was working with a coach today on a personal issue that linked back to my caregiving role with my mother over 2 decades ago. I realize now that expectations were never clarified and I didn't live up to my siblings' expectations of how I was supposed to support our mom. I could really have used your advice back in 1985. Hey, where were you? :-)

Perhaps you can devote a post or two to sibling issues relating to caregiving. It seems that any unresolved issues with our siblings are likely to become magnified in the context of providing care to our parents!