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When I decided to go back to school for my master’s in social work, I already knew I wanted to work with older adults. As a child, my mom’s parents lived in the same town as our family, and we saw them at least weekly. My dad’s parents lived on a farm a few hours away, but my childhood is filled with memories of large family gatherings with lots of food and games. I spent many holidays and portions of my summer on the farm with my grandparents and have wonderful memories helping my grandma with cooking and caring for the animals.
Some of my favorite memories involve helping my grandma bottle feed lambs and calves that needed extra care. During one summer while I was visiting, my grandma rescued baby ducklings (named Peep and Repeep), and I was able to help care for them until they could be released back into the wild. It was a magical time.
Unlike my childhood, now my parents and my husband’s parents live out of state. My kids aren’t as physically close to their grandparents as I was. We make more of an effort to plan trips and visits to spend time with them. I greatly value our time together, and the relationships they have developed with my children. If I didn’t already know how important these relationships were from my own childhood, I would thanks to the work I do at DARTS.
My parents are known as the “Silly Grandparents” and my children love sharing laughter and games with them. They also share their wisdom and experience, teaching my kids how to make lefse, cookies and treats like they learned from their parents and grandparents. My dad is able to fix anything, and he has had many helpers throughout the years in his grandkids.
Even though they aren’t as physically close, the relationship my parents have with my kids is still special. My daughter says that visits with her grandparents are the highlights of their year. All my daughters will often stand out in the front yard waiting for their grandparents to arrive for visits when they know they’re coming.
When my husband and I talk about taking vacations, I advocate for not putting it off because I’ve heard from too many people that planned big trips for later, whose futures have been completely upended by a diagnosis or death. The year my husband and I turned 40, we took a trip to Italy. I didn’t want to plan to do it later and then have something happen to one of us or our family and regret never getting to go. As a bonus, my children spent quality time with my parents during our trip, creating their own memories.
We also include our parents in vacations and visits as much as possible. As often as I hear encouragement to appreciate all the moments of parenting because they grow up so fast, we don’t hear enough encouragement to spend time with the important older adults in our lives, as they won’t be around forever. I treasure all the moments I get to spend with my parents as an adult, enjoying their company, laughing and playing games. I know I am lucky to have healthy parents involved in my life and my children’s lives.
I have had the privilege of working with many people throughout the years that are providing support and care to an older adult. Most of these individuals are reluctant to use the term caregiver to refer to themselves. In fact, when I was asked to write this blog about caregiving, my first impulse was to say I haven’t really been a caregiver.
Yet, I realized this wasn’t true – I watched and supported my parents caring for my grandparents, and now that my parents are in their late 70s, we talk about health, insurance, and their futures more than ever. I recently spent time on the phone talking to Mayo and an insurance company trying to figure out why Medicare advantage plans weren’t accepted at Mayo for my parents. That is caregiving. You don’t have to be providing 24/7 care to someone with dementia to be a caregiver.
This November, I encourage you all to reflect on who the important older adults are in your life and what your role and actions mean to them. If you are having a difficult time with the support you provide, know that there is help available, even if you don’t call yourself a caregiver.
Thank you for the support and care you provide to the older adults in your life. Sometimes, we all need support and care.
Tabatha Barrett serves as the Senior Director of Social Services and Innovation for DARTS. She earned her Master’s degree in Social Work from the University of Minnesota and is a Licensed Independent Social Worker (LISW) with the Minnesota Board of Social Work.
Tabatha started at DARTS in 2013 and she has 15 years’ experience working in aging services. Growing up, she had a close relationship with her grandparents and has preferred working with older adults throughout her career. She enjoys program development and finding solutions to gaps in services for older adults. She is passionate about connecting older adults and their caregivers to resources they need to continue living safely and comfortably in the community.
Tabatha resides in St. Paul with her husband, Matt, 3 daughters, 2 cats, and a golden retriever. Outside of work, you’ll find her watching one of her daughters’ volleyball games or archery tournaments, hiking with her dog, or curled up with her cat and a good book.
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