It sounded so easy. “Mom, it’s time to hire a caregiver”.
Except it was everything but easy. Despite your perception of her obvious need, and your endless worry, she resisted the idea (strongly). You struggled with overwhelming feelings of guilt for not being able to meet her needs on your own. Eventually, however, fueled by an open discussion, a crisis, or a gradual coming-to-terms, you got the “green light” to bring someone in to provide 24/7 support.
You cleared Hurdle #1.
Then came the daunting task of navigating the maze of permits, visas, and entitlements, finding the right person for the job, interviewing, checking references and negotiating salary and benefits.
But no time to catch your breath.
Hurdle #3 is in front of you.
The caregiver is coming. Or he’s just arrived. You are officially an employer, except you don’t quite know how this is all supposed to work, and there is no HR manual or personnel policy to guide you. How are you going to integrate a total stranger into your home, and ensure that he diligently cares for your parent with compassion and dignity?
Here are some tips:
Creating a Mutually Dignified Environment
Get ready for a dose of the obvious: the foreign worker caring for your parent is a living, breathing human being working in a physically, emotionally and psychologically exhausting profession that is overall undervalued and underpaid.
The way you treat your parent’s caregiver is directly related to the success of the relationship between him and your parent. Take care not to slip into an erroneous assumption that a gap in language or culture somehow makes a caregiver less of a person than your parent or yourself. Consciously illustrating respect for your caregiver’s personhood and individuality is not only the right this to do, it will pay dividends in your parent’s care.
1. Set aside personal space. Respect privacy.
By law, a live-in caregiver must have adequate sleeping space, ideally, his own bedroom. Make sure he has a good bed, a side table, a closet… enough space for all his personal belongings. If you can add little touches to make it homey, like a potted plant or pretty drapes, all the better.
Your caregiver’s space is HIS. If you had a house guest, you wouldn’t walk into his room to ask a question or get towels out of the closet without first asking permission. Give the same courtesy to your caregiver – be respectful of his space and privacy.
2. Get to know him.
Ask questions about your caregiver’s life, and show interest in his answers. Did he leave someone behind in his country of origin? Does he have a family – parents, spouse, children? What are his interests? Go slowly. If he doesn’t want to answer or looks uncomfortable, steer clear of the topic.
3. Understand his needs and habits.
Habits and norms differ from culture to culture. How often does one have meals? What does one eat? How does one take care of personal hygiene? What are religious beliefs and practices? Tone of voice, manner of speech… keep your eyes open for cultural potholes. Realize that your caregiver may have different societal norms than you do. Be open about your expectations, but make an effort to understand and accept your differences.
Supporting the Caregiver
4. Have one family member be the contact person.
Instructions from 10 different people is confusing and overwhelming. We daresay… maddening. And who is supposed to be paying him? David says it’s Marc and Marc says it’s Betty… lack of clarity and powerlessness can kill your caregiver’s motivation very quickly.
Appoint one family member to be the go-to for any formal interaction with the caregiver. Payments, coordinating vacations and time-off, giving positive feedback and constructive criticism: all of the significant stuff should be coming from one figure.
Of course, anyone in the family can show interest, caring and say positive things – that only helps! So do let family members know about the approach to your caregiver: respect and appreciation for him as a person.
5. Share expectations
You assume that when your mom takes a nap, the caregiver will fold laundry and wash the dishes. She assumes that she’ll be Skyping with her family in the Philippines. This is not going to go well.
If you want a recipe for success, you need to be cooking with the same ingredients. Have an open conversation with the caregiver about your expectations. Ask him to share his thoughts and his expectations about the work. With open communication, you’ll both be able to find satisfaction in the care process and results.
6. Be present at the beginning
During the first few days or weeks of your caregiver’s presence, be around so that you can see how things are going, and give explanations and clarifications when necessary. Sometimes it’s the little things like knowing where the extra soap is kept that can make a big difference in how smoothly things go.
7. Medical instructions from hospital staff
If a caregiver is entering the picture after your parent’s hospitalization, it’s best if the caregiver can see your parent before they are released from the hospital, to meet them and to get care instructions directly from the medical staff. You should be there also. Two sets of ears are always better than one.
Supporting Your Parent
How is your parent feeling about the new caregiver? Content, secure? Anxious and unhappy? While some anxiety at the beginning is normal, keep your eye on whether your parent’s emotional situation improves or worsens.
Some impressions you’ll get from the things your parent tells you directly (if they’re communicative). Other times you’ll need to “listen” with your eyes: is your parent – and the home – clean? Is Mom maintaining her weight? Does she look content? Be observant.
9. Be on top of medical matters
The caregiver may be responsible for the day-to-day management of your parent’s medical conditions, but make sure you stay informed and involved! Be present at doctor’s visits and aware of all changes in instructions and care. Stay on top of the medicine supply (especially medications like sleeping pills or sedatives) to make sure that all medications are being given as per doctor’s orders and used responsibly. Consider making a weekly medications chart that the caregiver checks off when each pill is taken.
10. Pop in unexpectedly
Every so often, stop by, unannounced, to see how things are going. If your caregiver is handling things well, you should like what you see. If not, you’ll see what needs to be addressed.
A delicate balance – but worth it
The relationship between your parent and their caregiver can be rewarding for both of them. It does, however, need your input to succeed and flourish.
Maintaining the balance between respecting your caregiver as a person while being on top of the situation and giving feedback when necessary is a delicate balance – but one that pays rich dividends in your parent’s happiness and security.