Do me a favor. Either really believe in caregiver self-care, or just stop talking about it.
And by “really believe in” it, I mean “actually help it happen.”
I feel like it’s important to note at this juncture that you might THINK that you’re helping. You might feel like a friendly reminder “don’t forget to take care of yourself!” is helping. You might feel like “use some of that respite time for a date night!” is helping. But these things aren’t helping. These things are nagging. Or, alternatively, these things are about as useful as saying “hey, why don’t you move to Mars?”
Oftentimes, the end result of these types of comments is the parent/caregiver just feels even crappier, because they KNOW they should be taking better care of themselves, and you’ve just reminded them that YOU KNOW they’re failing at this. And parents don’t like to think their child’s doctors see them as a failure at anything.
So either help, or just shut up.
How can you actually help? Well, for starters, if you know you don’t plan to actually offer practical help, then don’t bring it up. Do you plan to find me a trustworthy babysitter or respite person who is comfortable with Gtube feeds and medications and severe ADHD and developmental delays? And the money to pay for both them as well as the evening out? No? Then why bring it up? When you bring it up, it makes me feel like I have to justify myself to you. “Oh, well, it isn’t really that easy…” and then it turns into a conversation of me trying to convince you that it’s actually not that easy. But the thing is, this is really actually NONE of your business. I actually shouldn’t HAVE TO try to talk you into understanding that the real life, on the ground experiences of your patients are different from your own personal experiences.
Secondly, if you really have a commitment to caregiver self-care, take a minute to assess all the things you’re asking your patients’ caregivers to do. And then think through the things that all the child’s other doctors are asking them to do. And then look at that list. Really look at it. And then consider if, in exchange for a bit of sanity, or some time to eat lunch every day, you could let something go. Nothing you can let go? How can you get community supports in place to help?
Thirdly, listen to the parents of your patients. If they’ve made a well thought out decision to drop something from their radar, LISTEN TO THEM. Why did they decide to let that thing go? Are they overlooking important information that they need to know to make a better decision? Are there compromises to be reached here? Is there something ELSE you could back down on so the parent feels able to bring increased focus to the area they had previously dropped? If the thing the parent has dropped feels vitally important to you, the doctor, then it’s time for a conversation, but the conversation needs to be more than just “this is important, so do it.” You need to look at the child and parents as whole people.
Your patients’ parents are more than just unskilled labor existing solely to support your patient.