[This is the fifth installment of posts from Faith, AGE's CaregiverU Coordinator and personal expert on being a family caregiver - you'll continue hearing from her on a range of topics once a month.]
Lawn care. Hmmm, not my expertise. I do enjoy the sight of a well tended lawn, though. Thick green grass, nicely edged, pretty stones in a ring around each tree, neatly trimmed trees, front flower bed blooming. All very nice, but I am clueless as to how to create that, and probably not much better on knowing how to maintain it. You see, I’ve been married close to 45 years and we’ve had a system called ‘his work’ and ‘her work’. I took care of the inside of the house and he took care of the outside. The work inside of the house and all my other responsibilities took up all of my time and then some, so I paid little attention to the work in our yard. Seven years ago when we moved into our current house, I was eager to learn how to do yard work and hoped to work together with my spouse to plan the landscaping and share in the labor. My dear husband was insulted by those plans—refer back to ‘his work’ and ‘her work’ above. The yard was definitely his domain and I’d best remember that. In the name of peace and harmony, I took my rightful place, and simply enjoyed the loveliness.
I enjoyed it until now. Now my spouse is not so capable of planning and organizing the yard work. He sometimes forgets how to start the lawn mower and claims it doesn’t work. Our good neighbor comes over to get it going, and tells him the mower just needed an adjustment. Helpful friends give him bedding plants for the flower beds, thinking he would enjoy digging in the dirt again. He enjoys the digging and puttering, but then becomes very anxious because the plants aren’t thriving. That’s when he asks me what to do, and, I’m –clueless. He worries about the bald spots in the front lawn and then I worry. Surely bald spots are not a good thing, but what does one do?
The solution would probably be to hire a lawn service. Wouldn’t it be divine to turn the issue over to a professional? To do that, though, I’d need to work an extra job to pay for it, and then I’d need to pay for a caregiver to be with my dear spouse while I’m working that extra job, which would require more money. I don’t think that’s a good solution.
When I talk with other caregivers I realize that this spring yard work problem is only one of many problems faced by my caregiver sisters that all fit under the general theme titled, ‘When His Work Becomes your Work’. For some it’s paying the bills, for others it’s technology, and for still others it’s the cooking. There always seems to be at least one area where caregivers are clueless. I would imagine it’s very similar to the situation faced when a person dies, leaving behind a spouse to cope alone. The only difference seems to be that in the case of death, the issue is more evident and support may be more forthcoming. While the spouse is alive, it often is assumed that the job is getting done—until the bald spot in the front yard reveals otherwise.
In the Matter of Balance and Powerful tools for Caregivers classes that I teach through CaregiverU, the curriculum tells us to be assertive, communicating the need for help with good ‘I’ messages. That would mean I should say, “I have some yard issues that I do not know how to tackle. Could you please teach me what to do?” Perfect verbage, but to whom do I say it? The ‘to whom’ seems to be at the crux of my conundrum, but it may also be that asking for help from anyone is an unlearned skill.
I’ve never been good at asking for help. It just seems to go against my independent grain. Many participants in my classes seem to also have difficulty asking for help, and recently I visited with a friend struggling with that same issue.
This particular friend is currently experiencing some rather serious health challenges which make it difficult for her to do everything that she is accustomed to doing. She expressed frustration with her eldest son, who seemingly doesn’t get the ‘Help Needed’ message. As we talked, I realized that her son is probably living under a concept learned early in life and perpetuated to the present. The concept he’s operating under seems to be that his mother is a strong woman who always handles difficulties with grace, multi-tasking with amazing capability, never needing assistance. Perhaps it’s time for a very direct and honest communication session between the two. My friend seems to have now granted herself permission to ask for help, but since it’s such a new concept, others around her may need a little help realizing this.
When I, too, finally granted myself permission to communicate that ‘Help Needed’ message, the ‘to whom’ became crystal clear. I have a very good friend who delights in sharing her plant knowledge! Teaching me about plants may become a very enjoyable way for us to spend time together. Perhaps in the asking for help and then receiving it, I will be able to give more to others, enriching my life by the receiving and giving. Wow–I just may have stumbled onto a large life lesson!