…that best describes how you move through life? Have you ever considered your answer to this question might very well also be your approach to caregiving?

Folks, this is NOT a trick question, nor one meant to point fingers at anyone. I want you to seriously think about this. I believe identifying whether you are warm and fuzzy or cold and distant can help you if you are entering into the world of caregiving.

In fact, it may also be able to help if have a friend or family member who is. Hear me out on this theory.

Love styles & caregiving styles

By now you are all probably familiar with the concept of love and attachment styles. Well, I would venture to guess the Caregiving Style is a similar concept. We all approach situations differently according to how we incorporate our emotional styles into our daily activities including caregiving. I’d like to share a story to explain my point.

I lived and worked in South Florida for the bulk of my professional broadcast journalism career. Being on television meant regular appointments to ensure a proper appearance; hair, nails, clothing and waxing (shapely eyebrows are a must!).

I went to the same esthstetician for years. And in that half hour every few weeks of lying on her table to get my eyebrows waxed, we developed a friendship. Our lives intersected in various ways over the years; the ups and downs, trials and tribulations with relationships, children, parents, work, etc.

One day while chatting we both realized we had become friends but had never interacted socially outside of our appointment time.

Then she said something to this effect that has stuck with me.

“Julia, you’re my cold and distant friend. You’re not the kind who is going to just hang out and talk for no reason about nothing special. But I know that if I needed help or something came up with my kids or work, you would be there for me.”

If memory serves correct, my response was, “Thanks… I think?” The point here is that my friend was a keen observer of personality. She meant no disrespect or cut-down in what she said. And I have to admit, she was and is to this day, correct. I am not cut from the ‘warm and fuzzy” cloth but those who are close to me know I will be there when they need assistance.

Like mother like daughter?

They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. If that is true, then it should not surprise anyone I tend to lean more towards the ‘cold and distant’ description. Those who knew and interacted with my mother, Miss Nellie might say the same.

My recollections of my mother from my childhood, were that she always ALWAYS made sure us kids were well cared for, fed, cleaned, provided for and she and my father kept a safe roof over our heads. We knew the rules of the house and we knew there would be hell to pay if we bent those rules.

I never once doubted how much my mother loved me and my siblings. But, my mother wasn’t the ‘warm and fuzzy’ kind of who said things like, “Oh, you come here now so I can give you a big hug!”  Come to think of it, I don’t recall any of my friends having that kind of mom in their households. Perhaps it was because we grew up military? Maybe that lifestyle equates to practical and efficient ways to addressing the world? I wonder…

Roll the calendar forward to the last five of Miss Nellie’s life and having the roles reversed. As a caregiver, my first and foremost duties were to make sure mom had the best care possible.

There wasn’t a day that passed I did not tell my mom I loved her; usually two or three times a day. That was true even on those days when I was tired, overwhelmed, scared, angry and feeling like I was at the end of my rope. No matter what, I ALWAYS hugged and told my mom I loved her.

But from the outside looking in, I could see how someone could interpret my actions as ‘cold and distant.’ You see, I set my goals around mom’s care and comfort NOT painting a cozy and rosy picture of what was likely ahead for us.

Action vs. hopes and wishes

I don’t believe being warm and fuzzy would have ensured my mother’s doctors would have treated her with respect and dignity; that they listened to her. I chose the practical approach:

  • Ensuring prescriptions were correct
  • Demanding more information about her conditions and clear explanations.
  • My work included constant research to figure out what other resources might be available for us.
  • After securing in-home caregivers, I still had my hands in the mix providing double-duty care for Miss Nellie.
  • I was always practical about what supplies and/or equipment she might need including even the ultra-personal products that folks may not want to talk about.

And even when it came to the tough conversations – I insisted we have those discussions – about end-of-life wishes, taking the lead on her food and nutrition (I’ll save those details for a future post), tough-talk about why she had to use her walker (I knew a fall would be the beginning of the end), the realities of what her care would look like if she lost her mobility (which eventually she did and as anticipated, the care model changed dramatically).

But through it all, Miss Nellie knew how much I loved her; how much she meant to me. Now, that’s not to say there weren’t times when I lost my temper, because I did. If you are a caregiver – no matter how devoted and/or loving – there are going to be times when you feel like you are losing your mind; when the littlest little thing will make you explode. It is bound to happen

I love you in any form

However, I am convinced that what helped me navigate and survive the emotional and physical stress of caregiving, was that my decisions and actions were driven by a ‘cold and distant’ personality type. Practical. Methodical. I made decisions based on facts rather than hopes and wishes.

I share all of this to say, if you suspect you are more the cold & distant type, and question whether you should try to be more warm & fuzzy, and wonder if you are doing right by your loved-one, understand that there are different personality types. One is not better than the other. They are simply different.

The key is, to make sure your loved one knows you ‘have their back’ and love them. Be who you are in tackling the items that need to be handled. And say “I love you” as much as you can.

What personality style are you and how has it helped or hindered your approach to caregiving? I would love to hear your thoughts and comments! And be sure to sign up to receive the latest BLOG posts to your inbox!

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