Let’s talk: About … Self care and caregiving


Sometime in our lives, most of us will be caregivers. For the most part, taking care of babies and children who are dependent on us, is a different experience from taking care of aging parents or ill spouses who are dependent on us. Having children and timing the responsibility for a certain stage of your life, gives us a sense of choice and control. We prepare ourselves by reading books, actively seeking advice, attending classes. We often have peer groups going through a similar process during this child-rearing stage of life. It’s not always easy, but most of the time we look forward to this time and celebrate the opportunity to take care of our children.

Caretaking of our elders or family members with health issues is a different experience. Unlike raising children who will become increasingly independent by a certain time in life, caring for other adults in our lives is often an unexpected, or at best, an unplanned experience. The future portends increasing need for caregiving energy and time, as the person declines and becomes more dependent. It is a stage of life that most of us are often not prepared for, and do not look forward to.

Traditional Japanese values about caring for our elders and other family members who are in need continues to be deeply embedded in Japanese American values today. Many caregivers I have spoken with respond with immense energy and commitment. Some, however, may be conflicted about their responsibilities, and as Americans of Japanese descent, we’re bound to carry a huge burden of guilt for not doing enough. There is no doubt that caring for aging parents, disabled adult siblings or a spouse presents a huge, often painful, challenge for the caregiver.

Ongoing caregiving often requires major life changes, delayed goals, and shifting commitments. It’s a time that often strains the caregiver’s primary family responsibilities, relationships with siblings, as well as the caregiver’s health and well-being. A decade ago, startling research on caregivers of chronically ill family members indicated that the risk of stress-related illnesses and depression was 60 percent higher compared to non-caregivers.

This is all to say, it is essential for caregivers to take care of themselves. A positive attitude and good health are the necessary requirements for a quality life. Self-sacrifice, though admired in our Japanese culture, does not serve the individual, family or community over the long term.

If you recognize yourself or a loved one in this article, I urge you to take steps to improve your self care. Keep your own doctor’s appointments, make time to exercise and eat healthy, talk to others or join a support group for caregivers, and seek out community resources to get help with tasks that can lighten your load.

And last but not least, talk to family and friends about what you are going through, explore ways to share the burden, and don’t hesitate to ask for help. It’s easy for others to see you being so efficient and thorough that they don’t see that you need their support.

Daruma psychology points out that after seven times down, sometimes we need a little help from our friends, to get up for the eighth time.

Satsuki Ina, Ph.D. is a licensed marriage and family therapist with specialization in intergenerational trauma. She can be reached at satsukina44@gmail.com. She is also a filmmaker (“Children of the Camps” — www.children-of-the-camps.org and “From a Silk Cocoon: A Japanese American Renunciation Story” — www.fromasilkcocoon.com). The views expressed in the preceding column are not necessarily those of the Nichi Bei Weekly.

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