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The Caregiver’s Balancing Act

By: Kristine Dwyer, LSW

(Page 1 of 2)

In the 1960s, TV celebrity Ed Sullivan featured a Chinese talent artist who demonstrated the careful balance and timing of spinning porcelain plates atop thin, wooden sticks. The key was to start spinning a stack of plates one at a time and then dash from plate to plate keeping each one in motion to prevent them from crashing to the floor. Viewers watched in amazement as plates slowed their pace and began to wobble precariously, yet miraculously the man was able to reach each plate at the last second just before it tipped. The artist then ended the performance by quickly gathering up each teetering plate into a neat pile without a single disaster.

Caregiving today can often be compared to this entertaining yet realistic experience. Balancing the multiple roles and responsibilities of our lives is a constant challenge. Each plate may represent a different part of our lives as we work tirelessly to maintain motion and balance. They can symbolize personal needs, marriage, family, career, friendships, health issues, finances, social and physical activities. These are the “plates” of everyday life that one can expect to spin. Then when one becomes a caregiver, several more plates are added such as personal and medical care, transportation, supervision of safety needs, emotional support, companionship, financial oversight and decision-making for the well being of a loved one. Add in the weight of a few unexpected events such as sudden illness, job loss, or a divorce and it can be very difficult to keep all of the plates spinning in unison without a calamity.

Although we want to avoid losing our momentum, a sudden crash of a plate or an unexpected personal emergency can be a time of awakening. It can also be a call to reprioritize as we evaluate the results of a fallen plate. One may ask, “Should I keep spinning these plates alone or ask for help?” “Should I remove a plate before it falls, or perhaps set one or two aside to focus on fewer plates for awhile?” Keeping an eye on our spinning plates is important to assess our capabilities and the challenges we are facing. If we live in a continuous scramble between the plates, we may lose our focus on what is truly important and jeopardize our own health and safety, not to mention the well being of those we care about.


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