Forecast: Chance of Burnout

Mom is settling right in at her new place. She smiles a lot and is making a real effort to learn people’s names. Besides the three people at her assigned table in the dining room (a Muslim married couple from New York and a friendly Italian gentleman who used to be a news cameraman), she’s gotten acquainted with a couple other folks who attended the sing-a-long music performance on Friday evening. As is her way, she’s unfailingly cheerful even with people who are grumpy and complaining. She even likes the food at her new place, which to me is a major disappointment. It doesn’t take a lot to make Mom happy.

I’ve suspected that her perky enthusiasm has more to do with being near me than anything else. That was confirmed tonight when I was getting ready to leave. I promised that we’ll get the last of the boxes unpacked and all the clutter cleared away before I go back to work on Tuesday, and her face fell. “I won’t be seeing so much of you once you go back to work,” she said. I assured her that we can still see each other often – it just won’t be every day. “As often as possible, please!” she said, with an eager smile. I left, carrying a basket of her laundry that needs special attention, and came home to a messy apartment and two cats who twined around my legs and cried for food and attention after being left alone most of the day.

One of the cats (and a lot of the mess) will go back up north with my brother in a few days. Then it will just be Mom, two miles away and expecting to see me “as often as possible”. My therapist suggested that I set an expectation for visiting only once a week, so that additional visits are a treat and not an obligation. I was thinking more along the lines of two extended visits/outings per week with occasional quick drop-ins between. Because there was so much to do upon move-in, I’ve been with her 8-12 hours a day for the past four days. I’m afraid I’ve inadvertently set an expectation that could lead to massive burnout and resentment if I’m not careful. I can’t leave her alone for a week at a time, but I do need some days to myself – entire days, not just a stolen hour or two here and there.

I can already feel the burnout setting in. I genuinely enjoy spending time with my mom. I get a lot of satisfaction from taking care of her, smoothing out her difficulties and doing things to make her smile. But I don’t want my whole life to become about taking care of others, just when I’ve finally learned to take care of myself.

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One thought on “Forecast: Chance of Burnout

  1. I have a good friend who cared for both of her parents very, very well. Even administered her mother’s palliative meds. She took great pride and joy in the work, but it did almost do her in. Her father passed over ten years ago, her mother, two. She’s definitely back to normal, finally, but her actions ended up straining her relationships with her siblings because she felt they weren’t doing enough, and they thought she wanted to do it all. Be gentle with yourself. You can’t do anything for her if you are totally burnt out (I know you know that) – just make sure she understands that, too. xoxo

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