Ever end up not really volunteering to do something but somehow ending up doing it? Or, did you miss that all-important conversation that you weren’t invited to but were assigned to do something? Don’t feel bad. Everyone of us gets “voluntold” at some point or another. It’s how we handle it that makes a huge difference, especially when it comes to the family dynamics surrounding the “doing” part of caring for an aging parent.
Somebody’s Got to Do It…
I remember the dead silence in our kitchen when mom asked, “Who’s going with your dad to grandma’s to help in the garden and keep her company?” My brother and I looked at each other, then did the one thing you just do when you don’t want to be picked…we averted mom’s eyes, looking down, and kept our hands in our laps and our lips shut. That didn’t work too well, because we were both told we were going to go. Ugh. I remember thinking, “Why did she even bother asking if she was just going to tell us that we had to do it?”
And so it’s gone for many of us. Today, families are busier than ever, with an overabundance of things to do and places to go. So when one or both of your parents needs more help to stay at home, “voluntelling” may rear its head with a vengeance. With the commitment of time and resources it takes for doing what needs to be done (e.g., going to doctor visits, managing medications, taking care of bills, helping with their daily activities, etc.), it may be that you end up just doing most of it…or all of it…because somebody has to do it.
Could I Have Avoided This?
Yes. And, sometimes No.
4 Tips to Avoiding Taking On the Tasks Being Voluntold
- You have the right to say NO. “No, I cannot do ____.” And, don’t apologize. There’s nothing to be sorry about. We all have our boundaries.
- Learn to be comfortable with the silence that hangs in the air when no one steps up to volunteer. It can go on for what seems an eternity. Be silent.
- Ask a question. Rather than feeling like you must respond with a “yes” or “no”, probe. In situations where someone may be trying to manipulate you, I’ve found that by asking a question like, “Do I have a say in this?” or “Does that sound fair to you?”, the other person may pause, back down or reconsider with a solution that is more equally balanced.
- Counter with an alternative. Come back with what portion you can do and ask for others to pick up the rest. Or, propose other options and respectfully engage in negotiation.
The reality is, though, that sometimes you cannot avoid being voluntold. There are people out there, who may be your own siblings or friends, who simply refuse to budge. Who will not compromise. Who do not want to be involved and cannot make themselves available to help out with mom and/or dad. When this happens, it then comes down to you having to making a choice. Do you accept this and just do what needs to get done? Do you fight to get at what’s fair and right, no matter what it takes? Do you demand an arbitrator/3rd party enter into the picture? Do you walk away yourself, and let things fall where they may? Not easy. There’s never just one right answer for every situation. I like to seek the ear of a close friend or trusted colleague to get their reaction and thoughts…before I make my choice.
Embracing Being Voluntold
So, it’s happened. You’re a caregiver that’s been voluntold. And you’ve chosen to just do it. Can you now embrace it…what you are now committed to doing? I’ve found that in embracing what I now have before me I can reap the benefits in doing so. And, so can you!
4 Benefits of Embracing Your Being Voluntold
- Serenity. Acceptance brings peace of mind. At this point, you have the power to accept the things you can not change and make the very best of it.
- Transformation. Undoubtedly, the experiences you gain during this time and the lessons you learn will change you. Wisdom and perspective are two of the gifts that come from transformative challenges in our lives.
- Happiness. In fulfilling your commitments, there comes a sense of purpose and self-confidence. In giving to and helping others, you can deepen relationships and experiences that in the end bring happiness.
- No Regrets. It’s quite common to hear family caregivers speak out on the burdens they’ve assumed, the toll caregiving’s taken on their lives, and the impact to their physical, emotional and spiritual health. Even more loudly stated though, is the blessing of having no regrets. They see the time spent with their parent(s) as a gift. They see what they are doing, or have done, as a labor of love.
If we can look at being voluntold as an opportunity to become more…to learn more…to experience more…we can hopefully then move on with tender memories and knowing what we’ve done truly mattered.