How to Train Your Carer
by Margie McCallum
I refer to the paid helper who looks after you as ‘she’ because most carers are women. If you are fortunate enough to have a male carer just cross off the ‘s’ every time I write ‘she’.
The relationship between carer and client can be wonderful, a mutually beneficial and joyful friendship. Or it can be awful. In very many ways, how it pans out is up to you. (I have written some notes for your carer, too, but no peeping. Focus on your own role.)
Fundamental to establishing a good working relationship with your carer is to make sure she knows exactly what you expect of her. I can hear some of you say, “She should know!” and in general terms that’s true, but that denies individuality, both on your part and hers. Well-cooked vegetables to you may mean melt in the mouth, and to her, a stage beyond stir-fry crisp.
As time passes you and your carer may become like two cogs in a well-oiled machine, but to start with you’re in charge. You have a managerial role to fulfil. You may have had authority in your working life; now’s the time to use it with extra subtlety.
In the wonderful little book, The One Minute Manager, the authors Blanchard and Johnson make it the manager’s firm responsibility to ensure that an employee knows what’s required. It may seem a little strange to use this business model at home, but its very simplicity makes it applicable in all spheres of life. When both parties are clear about what’s required, and agreed, the way ahead is straightforward. So, think inform and clarify.
Feel free to teach and show what you mean by a thorough vacuum, a well-ironed shirt, a gentle wash, and not being rushed. Each of us is a product of our family and social background. It’s sobering to take on board that if you grew up in her household you’d most likely do and see things just the way she does. Your carer’s way is different from yours, not worse. Implying that if she’d been brought up properly she’d know to warm the dinner plates may knock her confidence. Try, “I really like my dinner served hot on a pre-warmed plate because it takes me so long to eat it. Would you make sure you do that, please.” Or, “When you leave the door open I get cold very quickly. Please do close it after you.”
When something important to you is done the way you want it, let your carer know. Do it soon, and be specific. Now you’re thinking encourage and correct.
When something isn’t right, first go back to what you thought you’d agreed. Review it, clarify, and agree again. Only if this doesn’t change your carer’s ways is it time to speak to her. Even so, do wrap it up in praise and encouragement. We all do much better that way. Try, “Lucy, I’m delighted with the way we’re working together about meals now, and your telephone manner makes me proud to employ you, but I really would like you to be up before eight in the morning to help me get dressed. Tomorrow at eight then?”
As a carer I’ve found it a relief to understand just how I’m not coming up to the mark. One dear woman who had regularly to be transferred from wheelchair to hoist told me very clearly how it felt to be suspended over the toilet and allowed me to practice making the process smoother.
So, inform, clarify, encourage, correct. What other one-word gems does the One Minute Manager give us?
Many a tense situation dissolves with laughter. My huge embarrassment at having somehow let the lovely Mrs Murphy slide out of her wheelchair was banished later in the day when she laughed about being deposited on the grass just short of a puddle.
Another word from the One Minute Manager:
For more enjoyment in your caring relationship first have an attitude of gratitude. Thank your carer for the little things like letting the cat in and heating your wheat bag.
If she bugs you, remember to look for her good points. Maybe she has a car and takes you places, or remembers to make your bed, however inadequately. Just practice looking for what’s working between you. A positive perspective has the power to turn a very difficult situation into a rewarding one. And do remember that comparatively few people have the privilege of being cared for in their own homes.
Enjoyment can also be created by drawing out your carer’s talents and using them to mutual benefit. Is she orderly? Make a regular time to go through a drawer or shelf together. Does she love baking? Invite a friend or two for tea and have them take away what you won’t use. Let her shine in her own unique way and enjoy the spin-offs.
Life is too short to get mad, and actually it’s an opt-out. Instead, inform, clarify, encourage, correct, laugh and enjoy. When you remember your responsibilities in relation to your carer, chances are you’ll end up training each other into a warm and generous companionship.
- CCC Mission and Aims – in more detail
- Looking after Our Own – a brief history of health and social care in the Findhorn Foundation Community
- Curriculum for the 4th Age – summary