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Carol Bradley Bursack, Published November 19 2011

Bursack: Be thankful that imperfection is good enough

Dear Readers: Thanksgiving is nearly here. The holiday that is meant to remind us of all we have to be grateful for.

However, it can also work against caregivers, increasing their feelings of anxiety and guilt around not doing everything perfectly for everyone who depends on them.

During my sandwich generation years, the feeling of being torn between all of the people I loved was acute. How do I give my kids the kind of holidays kids deserve and still take care of several family elders? Which of the elders would benefit from picking them up at their various locations and transporting them to our home? How do we help them navigate our home’s steps, use the bathroom without embarrassment or discomfort, and take part in the larger context of the family setting? Who among them would only be made more anxious and confused by our attempts to make them part of the traditional family celebration?

My sister, Beth, though she lived nearly 50 miles away, shared in this juggling act. Like my children, her kids spent a portion of each holiday at the nursing home with the elders who couldn’t come to the house.

Every year provided a different scenario, depending on the conditions of our various elders. We had to decide how to spend time with children and spouses, the elders above who could perhaps benefit from a holiday in our family home, and the elders that would do better in their own surroundings, hence we would schedule time with them at the nursing home.

The only way to cope was to accept that we couldn’t make holidays perfect for everyone – or even anyone. Chances are, neither can you. You are already making life easier for people you love. What you do for the holidays may not be perfect, but it’s got to be good enough.

Don’t forget that you, too, count. If you exhaust yourself trying to do exactly the right thing for everyone, you may end up not being able to do much at all for anyone.

Sit down. Take a breath. Figure out what configuration will work best for the most people in your life this year, including you.

Let go of any rigid expectations you may have that “this year things will be perfect.” Try to understand that your elders are likely feeling the losses that generally come with aging. That can make them seem needy and selfish. However, underneath their neediness, they also want you to take care of yourself.

So, give yourself a break. No one deserves a little imperfection more than a caregiver during the holidays.

Carol Bradley Bursack is the author of a support book on caregiving and runs a website supporting caregivers at www.mindingourelders.com.