While not specific to caregivers of people living with dementia, if you are a daughter who is serving in supportive capacity to a parent with dementia challenges you will find Working Daughter by Liz O’Donnell to be of comfort. Much like the videos on this web site, this book serves as a reminder that you are not alone and that the stresses of caregivers of all kinds have a thread of commonality.
From the first sentences of the introduction, you can tell that the O’Donnell speaks from a place of “having been there.” O’Donnell provides an excerpt from the famous Robert Frost poem “A Servant to Servants” as a thematic trigger for her introduction, stating that her adaptation of it was an on-going mantra during her own caregiving journey: “the only way through is through.” “I used the mantra outside the (yoga) studio too, when I was trying to run three miles without stopping, or when I was struggling to complete a boring assignment at work. But I didn’t fully grasp the concept until I went through hell and made it out alive,” writes O’Donnell of her caregiving journey.
The chapters of this book are titled with what may very well be the stages that O’Donnell went through in her own caregiving journey: Accepts, Absolve, Prioritize, Flex, Choose, Manage, Disrupt, Renew, Plan, and Reflect. Especially poignant are the personal quotes, which begin each chapter. These windows into the “stages” work to set the foundation of what the reader will encounter in the next set of pages.
Beginning first with “Accept” as the initial chapter’s theme, the book opens with strong foundational data about caregiving in the United States, along with tips on moving from a caregiver burden mindset to acceptance and gain. Especially valuable is the research cited about “Caregiving’s Hidden Benefits.” O’Donnell quotes the research with an excerpt in this chapter stating: “We assert that the “caregiving-is-stressful” assumption is an overly narrow, simplified, and limited view on these types of human relationships.”
If you are a caregiver with siblings, you will find the “Four Traps of Caregiving with Siblings” and the questions on setting boundaries in the “Absolve” chapter to be particularly relevant. Within this chapter, O’Donnell talks about the worst word for caregivers. She states that “if you are going to be truly effective in managing tough relationships, there is one word I urge you to remove from your vocabulary. It’s the word ‘should.'”
Much of the content within each of the book’s chapters is broken out in bolded headline statements, or checklists, or the top asked questions, etc. By organizing the content in this way, O’Donnell makes it very digestible for the reader and allows for the very busy caregiver to stop reading the book at any time and easily come back to it. The organization of the content also makes it readily accessible for re-reading, cornering the pages, or using highlighting when you want to come back and re-reference certain topics of renewed interest at a later time.
One of our favorite jewels within the book is the “Fifty Things Caregivers Can Do to Practice Self-Care.” Some of the ideas are commonly noted for self-care such as “Nap;” “Get a manicure;” or “Take walks.” However, there are many in the list that most people might not think of as helping the caregiver, such as “Volunteer;” “Pay someone a compliment;” or “Engage in random acts of kindness.” These are especially surprising due to the sense that the caregiver is already tapped out from caregiving too much so to give more; however, the genuine rejuvenation of giving in a capacity outside of the current situation, can heal the caregiver’s soul.
In the book’s final chapter, apply called “Reflect,” O’Donnell writes about how she as a person has truly been transformed for the better by her caregiving experience. This presents a positive message for caregivers of all kinds. So, although Working Daughter was not specifically written with the dementia caregiver in mind, it is truly relatable to all caregivers and is a must read if you are a daughter, mother, and professional working woman that simply longs to be heard and understood.