How children can be heroes who rescue caregivers

Spreading the caregiving responsibilities to the younger generation in the house

Research shows that the ageing population in India, is mostly supported by their now grown children. You may be surprised  at the concerted effort to keep their ageing parents or loved ones (with/without terminal illness) at home and become their dutiful caregivers. However, there are some reports in the last few years that state that forgetting and abandoning parents is a little more common among Indians. This is not just because the children intentionally don’t want the responsibility but due to issues like cramped up living conditions, working abroad or pressurising work commitments.

This being said, caregivers are the invisible warriors. Often, while caregiving for a terminally ill, chronic or geriatric parent(s), the children sideline their business, personal goals and relationships. They step in and take care of everything: from living conditions, medical check-ups to finances. It’s a way of giving back to the parents who took care of them. But what if I say that there are ways in which you can minimise the burden that you shoulder entirely by yourself and make this process of caregiving more inclusive of others who you love. Several family members are often involved in the caregiving process- children, relatives, and close friends. However, grandchildren are often thought to be too young and immature and, therefore, the assumption that they cannot help. There is also a desire to shield them from seeing their grandparents, in a vulnerable state, so they are encouraged to focus on their education and career.

A study by Pyke and Bengston in the paper Caring more or less: Individualistic and Collectivist systems of family eldercare published in the Journal of Family and Marriage suggests (1996) that in some families, when the grandchildren step in and provide assistance to their grandparents, it  leads to the formation of stronger family networks and bonds.

It appears to be a universally accepted fact that grandparents dote on their grandchildren. Seeing a picture of their grandchild or a short phone call from them can instantly cheer up their mood. So instead of separating the grandchild from the entire caregiving process, it becomes imperative to make the process more inclusive.

Caregiving means taking on the responsibilities of the loved one, while doing justice to your own. This can be overwhelming alone -it would be meaningful and useful to involve others in the process.It is teamwork and even the youngest individual in the family can help take out the stress from the caregiver, more times than you’d realise. You will evoke among the kids a feeling of inclusion, sensitivity and compassion towards caregivers and care-receivers. The kids will form a social and emotional connect with the care-receivers and teenagers will be able to put themselves in the shoes of their parents and not only understand their parents’ point of view but also share their responsibility.And don’t forget the added benefit of sheer happiness for the care-receiver.So how can grandchildren help in a way that benefits everyone?

Gains For the Care-Receiver:

 Engage with the favourite family members:Grandchildren remind them of their own children or with time they become more loving and patient than they were with their own children. Grandchildren can spend time with them- this may be in the form of playing board games like Snakes and Ladders, Ludo or simple card games. . Read more about what makes their relationship special here.

Sense of purpose and passing on legacy: Age sometimes brings dependence which takes time to accept, interacting and engaging with the grandchildren gives a sense of purpose- something to look forward to. Sharing stories from their life, teaching proverbs experiences or languages or takeaways from Ramayana and Mahabharata are examples. They will also realise that they are able to pass on a legacy of culture, and their beliefs and values, first hand to the next generation. Educational games (Scrabble!), or teaching writing the regional transcript or multiplication tables will distract the care-receiver from their illness and create a situation where they feel productive and useful, even if it’s for a short period of time. This will also help in keeping the care-receiver’s mind alert and stimulated, triggering happy chemicals within the care-receiver as well as boosting their well-being and happiness.

Inclusion into the larger family: Involving the care-receivers in decision-making or in family discussions related to grandchildren can make them feel like they are significant. Often, the grandchildren may feel less under pressure while sharing their desires and hopes than with parents. The elders will have something worthwhile to say which may echo your thoughts and be received with a more open mind. Care-receivers will realise that they are not a burden, but in fact, are contributing to the well-being and future of the family.

 Diversity in help: Variety in family who interact with them, each with their own different personalities and relationships into play, will help add to the diversity of interactions.This is particularly helpful in case there has been a stressful episode with the primary caregiver or a distressing development like bad news of a contemporary passing. It will make them feel like they matter to others as well and are not being taken care of only as a responsibility but  because they are really loved and cared for.

 Gains For the Caregiver:

 Splitting the caregiving responsibility:Some of the physical tasks from the tasks’ list can be pared by the kids chipping in.Younger ones could run errands -go to the grocery store or medical store or help with setting up a meal or serving a meal to the care-receiver. If the grandchild is older, tasks based on their skills like maintaining accounts, sorting out the insurance, ordering medicines, arranging appointments, providing transport to the clinic for  routine treatments can be taken on.

 Technology friendly: The grandchildren are more tech-friendly than anyone else in the family. They will make life easier in more ways than anyone can think. From ordering medicines online and having them delivered at the doorstep to playing games on the tablet with the care-receivers with minimum mess will actually reduce physical labour and tasks can be completed quicker. They can teach you and the care receiver about apps that can ease your work or help organise yourself (Like the Caregiver Saathi App) or help set up entertainment for the care receiver to relieve the caregiver of that task.

 Short respite: Splitting the responsibilities, having your child come into the room with the care-receiver for at least an hour and engage with them, will provide you with short respite. You can take a nap or go for a short walk or meet a friend knowing that your loved one is still being taken care of. You will come back refreshed and rejuvenated.

 Bonding with the kids: When the little tasks like making your child learn or entertaining the care-receiver are crossed off your list, a lot of the stress and anxiety extinguishes with it. You will see a new side of your child, the more helpful and understanding one, strengthening the bond between the two of you.This is also a positive reinforcement for the child, acknowledging the “adult” and responsible facets of their development.

 Distraction: Taking the child on errands means you have someone to talk to. Your mind will be working in another direction, thinking about something other than your caregiver responsibilities or what the care-receiver will need next. It will help reduce your mental stress and provide you with a credible distraction.

 For the grandchildren:

 Confidence and sense of contribution: When the grandchildren single handedly complete tasks, it inculcates a sense of confidence within them. They will realise that they are able to contribute to the family. Being able to facilitate the caregiver and the patient, is a huge accomplishment even if it’s in their own little way.

Preparing for a wider set of responsibilities: Being around a care-receiver can call for dealing with different kinds of situations. There could be times when the care-receiver will require a bath or use the loo but they are unable to get up or in some cases even communicate it. Even if there are medical attendants assigned to the care-receiver, these activities need to be directed. This will prepare the grandchildren for a set of responsibilities which is in contrast to their usual ones like completing homework or attending school.

 Understanding family legacy: Spending time with the care-receiver will create chances to learn about family dynamics and history. They will be able to understand their family legacy, ask questions and be prepared for the future. This could be in the form of understanding extended familial relationships, or comprehending that some illnesses that care-receivers have can be genetic and passed on in the family, from one generation to the next. By simply being out and about the care-receiver, the grandchildren will know the symptoms, and what to expect when their parents or they themselves undergo a similar medical problem.

 Emotional quotient: Empathy, putting yourself in the shoes of the care-receiver, seeing and understanding what they prefer and how they need a certain task to be done, will do wonders to the child’s emotional intelligence. Striving to understand what the care-receiver wants, keeping anger and irritation at a safe distance, and safe-guarding commitments, maybe a little too much to expect from a child but it is sure to develop when they are around their ageing grandparents.

Caregivers are afraid to ask for help thinking themselves to be the sole protectors of their loved ones. It is more than ok to ask for help, split responsibilities and in the process take a break. If the caregiver’s child is good at cooking then they are definitely going to prepare a meal faster. They are usually more digitally savvy, so they can help source information or take videos and photographs of grandparents. If they are studying commerce or medicine they would be able to help better with the bills or visiting the doctor. Don’t be reluctant to ask for help. Distribute the caregiving responsibility to the younger generation in the house, they are sharper than you realise.


About the Author

Miloni Shah 

“I graduated from St. Xavier’s College, Mumbai with a degree in English Literature and then completed an MA in Writing at the University of Warwick. I have been a journalist, an assistant teacher, a content writer at a PR agency and a travel writer and have come to the realisation that I like writing fiction and nonfiction that expose the different aspects of society. 

You can follow me on Instagram @theflaneur.96 that explores the world of books and witnesses the ordinary in the extraordinary.”

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