Quitting Work for Caregiving: Are You Prepared for the Demands?

Much like parents of small children and guards at Buckingham Palace, caregivers are never off-duty. And juggling the needs of an ailing family member with the demands of a full- or part-time job can lead a person to quickly reevaluate their work/life balance. For some caregivers, the most expedient way to meet family obligations might be to leave the workforce altogether to devote themselves to “stay-at-home” caregiving. Financial considerations aside, the daily responsibilities of full-time caregiving require emotional and physical qualities or they can easily become overwhelming.

Are you cut out for the role? Here are some questions to consider before making the leap.

Do you have unlimited patience?

People who need care often take longer to complete even the simplest tasks or find them confusing. As a stay-at-home caregiver, you might have to listen to Mom ask the same question 20 times in a given afternoon or watch a freshly cooked lunch grow cold as Dad slowly struggles to get from the living room to the dining table. If your response to these situations is to sigh and fold your arms, full-time caregiving might not be for you. On the other hand, if you can be attentive to your family member’s limitations while taking the time to encourage them to be as self-sufficient as possible, you’re likely to do a great job.

Can you do the heavy lifting, physically and emotionally?

Your family member might no longer be fully independent, and you will have to deal with things like wound care, feedings, and personal hygiene routines. You might also have to help him or her get around and in and out of bed and the bath. These tasks require a strong constitution physically, but emotionally as well: A person facing loss of independence could also lash out in frustration, and you’d have to bear the brunt of these outbursts. As a full-time caregiver, you’re going to need to remain aware that these situations may make your family member feel uncomfortable and vulnerable, and a large part of your job will be to bring a degree of calm and create a sense of trust. And to keep up with the physical demands, it’s important that you can take care of yourself by eating well, getting enough sleep and staying fit.

Are you well organized?

A key element in any caregiving operation is organization: You’ll be responsible for finances, including insurance coverage issues and medical bills, as well as logistics like doctor visits, therapy sessions, medications, drug interactions, and record keeping. If you’re not on the ball, things can quickly spiral out of control, and this could have a negative impact on your loved one’s health. The best caregivers tend to be good managers. They create schedules, plan for emergencies, and set up a master care plan so they have all of their family member’s vital information at their fingertips.

When you need help, can you ask for it?

Stay-at-home caregiving is not a 9-to-5 job, and the stresses involved can put caregivers at risk for health problems, depression, and burnout. As a full-time caregiver, you are going to need to acknowledge that you can’t do it alone and that you will need help. After all, you also have yourself to look after. Are there friends or other family members you can rely on for respite care? Do you have the resources to enlist the services of a home health aide when necessary? Caregivers who can line up help and give themselves breaks are less stressed and happier overall, and this increases the odds that you’ve got what it takes to be a successful stay-at-home caregiver.

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