Two days after Christmas in 1947, the Saturday Evening Post featured a cover of iconic painter Norman Rockwell’s “Tired Salesgirl on Christmas Eve.” In Rockwell’s beloved painting, a dazed sales clerk slumps against a wall with her shoes kicked off amid a scattering of disheveled dolls and wrapping paper remnants. While we may smile at Rockwell’s whimsical depiction of one careworn holiday worker, thousands of Americans feel just as worn out during the holiday season without wrapping one gift or attending one party.

tired Santa Claus

These done-in citizens are the family members who attend the needs of aging parents or an ill spouse, relative or family friend every day, all yearlong. By December, many home caregivers feel so weary and overwhelmed with daily duties that the thought of idyllic families enjoying the holidays only adds sadness, depression and resentment. Instead of the last weeks of the year being filled with fond memory-making, many family in-home care providers struggle with feelings of “Bah! Humbug!” from being burdened and isolated from the rest of the celebrating world.

The holidays are particularly challenging for family caregivers because they often feel torn between being there fully for their loved one and wanting to be free to enjoy festivities with family and friends. Fortunately, there are workable solutions so caregivers can do both and avoid extra stress and negative feelings that tend to surface during the holidays

The following are some ways that family caregivers can lighten their load from now through New Year’s:

    Adjust expectations. Unmet expectations during the hustle and bustle of the holidays often trigger more anger and discouragement. Instead of setting the bar high for caregiving and decorating the house, buying gifts, sending cards, baking goodies, etc., lower the demand factor.

    Acknowledge feelings. Family caregivers deal with a range of emotions from frustration with lack of help to fear over an unpredictable future. It is sad that the loved one can’t live alone anymore or engage socially like in previous holidays, so caregivers need to set aside time to listen to and work through those more difficult feelings.

    Allow for “good enough.” If the tree lights are uneven this year, tell yourself that it’s good enough. If you only have time to bake one round of cookies, it’s good enough. If you need to send your holiday cards after January 1, it’s good enough. For family caregivers already stretched thin, perfect isn’t always the wise choice.

    Be free from the “shoulds.” Free yourself from the mindset that there’s a right way to spend the holidays. Consciously toss aside these statements: “I should feel chipper. I should have people over. I should carry on our usual holiday plans.”

    Extend compassion to yourself. Compassion and gentleness are gifts family caregivers can give back to themselves. Taking time for regular exercise and leisure activities allows for healthy self-care. For their own holiday wish lists, caregivers might enjoy special treats including nail treatments, massages and restaurant gift cards.

    Practice letting go. Family caregivers can waste emotional energy wishing circumstances were different for their loved one. A key to enjoying the holidays is to cease fighting what is beyond one’s control. Determine to end the year letting go of disgruntled attitudes, relationship squabbles and past mistakes that can interfere with the best care for an aging or ill relative.

    Plan ahead and ask for help. Simplify priorities. Ask other family members to take shifts and rely on professional caregivers to step in with a variety of services from respite care and transportation to light housekeeping and meal preparation.

Even Norman Rockwell added a little lightheartedness to the picture-perfect holiday with his cross-eyed sales clerk who survived the Christmas rush. No one was designed to run ragged by doing it all during the holidays, especially family caregivers who choose to narrow their focus on the priceless gifts of extending love and self-sacrifice to another.

Gene Lennon

Director, Senior New Ways Board of Directors

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