Time: The family caregiver dilemma

By Jane Vock

When we say, “I don’t have time” it really feels true. Time is such a precious commodity for family caregivers.

If you don’t take time for yourself and put yourself on the agenda at the front end of caregiving, it will be harder to do so down the road.

Caregiving is often labour and time intensive, or it can certainly become this. There are often other activities and responsibilities that are vying for your time. These may include raising and taking care of children, caring for a parent, running a household (or maybe even more than one), not to mention the paid work you may do outside the home.

Knowing this, taking time for yourself may seem impossible and it may be a reflex when you say, “I don’t have time.” The problem is that, while this can certainly feel true, it does not necessarily mean it is true.

What? What the #%@$??

Before you pitch your screen across the room, please consider taking a closer look at the context of what you are saying to yourself about time. As with virtually all of our thoughts, a closer examination can be revealing.

The importance of context

First of all, consider when you are most likely to be thinking, “I don’t have time.” What is the context? It seems that this is most often said when someone is suggesting that you should take care of yourself or take time for yourself.

So now we can complete the sentence with what is often implicit: ‘I don’t have time for me.

Stated differently, this thought may also sound like any of the following:

  • “I am not a priority.”
  • “I do not deserve the amount of time and attention as others.”
  • “Other people are more important than I am.”
  • “______’s health is more important than mine, which is why I don’t have time to go to the doctor.”

How does it feel to think about completing the sentence with the implicit beliefs about your own value? The apparent disregard for your own health and well being can be stark, and hopefully, a call to action.

Re-phrasing the statement

Laura Vanderkam, a Wall Street Journal author, has suggested that we replace, “I don’t have time” and instead say, “It’s not a priority.”

How would that make us feel?

At the very least, re-phrasing the statement may take away that sense of being time’s victim. It also drives home the fact that we are always making choices about how to spend our time. This can be a hard message to hear and this is because we usually believe our (unexamined) thoughts.

Byron Katie offers 4 powerful questions as another way to examine the context of our thoughts. Draw on the above example, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor,” or instead, use what you hear yourself saying. For example, “I don’t have time to…” and ask yourself in a contemplative way:

  1. Is it true that I don’t have time to go to the doctor?
  2. Do I absolutely know it’s true that I don’t have time to go to the doctor?
  3. How do I feel when I believe the thought, “I don’t have time to go to the doctor?”
    – How do I feel in my body?
    – What emotions do I feel?
    – How do I feel about caregiving when I believe the thoughts that I don’t have time?
    – How do I feel about the person I’m caring for?
    – How do I feel about life?
  4. Who would I be without the thought, “I don’t have time?”
    – What would life be like?
    – What would caregiving be like?

The suggestion here is that this thought might not be as true as it feels. And, if it really is completely true, it may be time (pun intended) to look at what needs to change in order to put “you” (and keep yourself) on the agenda.

It is virtually guaranteed that no one is going to come along and give you time. That is, you are the only one that can give yourself time.

It is wise to have the ‘long view’ or plan for the future when it comes to family caregiving. If you don’t take time for yourself and put yourself on the agenda at the front end of caregiving, it will be harder to do so down the road.

There is a multitude of ways to create and take time for yourself and you are the one that will know how best to do this.

It may be drawing on community and institutional supports, or friends and relatives, or shifting your priorities and expectations in the home. Or, it may be through purchasing caregiving services.

There is no presumption here that creating and taking time for yourself will be easy or easily achievable, but it will be impossible if you accept your thought, “I don’t have time for me” without questioning

Jane Vock is a writer for Elizz.com. This article is reprinted with permission.