Being the Family Handler


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Today’s topic is all about being the family handler.

One of the things that comes up pretty frequently in my care partner support group is that many of my care partners are the handlers of stuff. And if you’re reading this blog, you probably are as well. So if you’re the handler of stuff in your family, you are the doer of all things, a lot of times there’s one person in the family who manages everything. So it could be you, your mom, your dad, maybe you’ve got two siblings. Maybe there’s an aunt or uncle involved, but somehow everything – all of the caregiving and caregiving-related tasks – has fallen onto you and that’s a tough position to be in across the board. That’s what I see from my senior living families. They are either taking care of a person living with dementia or a person who’s in a dementia care community.

And regardless, they become the defacto person where they have to handle all of the tasks. And let me encourage you that if you are the handler of tasks, take some time for yourself. And I know that sounds crazy. You’re thinking when you have to be able to step away sometimes. For example, I had a care partner recently explain that she really wanted to go away for the weekend with her husband, but was worried what would happen if she were to leave her family to deal with their own issues. And I really encouraged her. The rest of my care group encouraged her. Go take that trip. You deserve it and you need the time. Your family’s made it this far. They can do it without you for a couple of days. And I think if you are the doer of stuff, you start to feel like you have to handle everything because they’re not going to be able to.

But remember that there is this sort of learned helplessness that we can teach people and your family has unfortunately learned that you are super capable, which is great, you are capable. But they’ve learned that they don’t need to do anything because you’re going to handle it. So what if you (stay with me here), you just didn’t handle it? What if you let something fall through the cracks? What’s the worst that could happen? I mean, I’m sure there’s something bad that could happen with some of these things that come up, but you are allowed to step back from some of these tasks. So don’t feel like you as a caregiver for someone living with dementia or a care partner in some fashion, that you have to be the defacto person. You need space and time and you also need help, too. I hope this has been helpful. Hope this resonated with you. And if you are feeling this way, please consider joining my Patreon group. The lowest tier is only 10 bucks a month and you get access to my support group and my Slack channel where you can chat all the time if you want, with your fellow care partners who are also in this same boat.

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Rachael Wonderlin is an internationally-recognized dementia care expert and consultant. She has a Master’s in Gerontology and is the author of three published books with Johns Hopkins University Press. Rachael owns Dementia By Day, a dementia care consulting and education company.

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