Home care can be tricky for families to set up because oftentimes there are too many feelings involved, a lack of caregiving experience, and other difficulties. In these cases, it is always good to consult with people who have been through the same and know first-hand how to overcome the challenges that may arise to ultimately create a nurturing home care experience for our loved ones.
To provide you with accurate and valuable information on this topic, we've recently had a conversation with Mike George, who along with his wife Jan founded Soaring Families, a community that is focused exclusively on helping family caregivers navigate the complex world of care. He was kind enough to share his caregiving story with us, which involves his third son Ben.
Listen to the full interview on our podcast.
This is what he told us:
CARING SUPPORT: We want the Caring Support community to get to know you. Tell us about yourself and your company.
MIKE GEORGE: I am the co-founder of this company that we started seven years ago called Soaring Families, and we, my wife and I created it to help family caregivers deal with the complexity of a health issue or disability. We have three adult children. One of them is Ben, who will turn 30 this year, and was born with complex care needs from day one.
And we've been in the family caregiver role, although I don't refer to myself as a family caregiver, I'm his dad; nevertheless, we do all the things that a caregiver would do, and we've been doing that for the last three decades. And one of the things we wanted to help other families with, not just if you have an adult child or a young child, but if you have an ageing parent, and really to help people figure out how do you make home care work, how do you make that so that it's an amazing experience for everybody. And that's really what we've done over the last few years is taking all the lessons and all the things that Ben has taught us, then all the things that work for us, to have developed a team approach. And we want to share that with as many people as we can.
CARING SUPPORT: What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned in your journey with your son that you would like to share with other caregivers?
MIKE GEORGE: I would say the biggest thing is that none of us can do this alone and, nor should we. Obviously, if you have a child like we did, you have this innate obligation that, well, they're my child. It's up to me to figure this out and to do the right things, which is true. But the extra levels of complexity and care that are required, you can only do it on your own for so long. And what we found is that there's strength in teams and having a sort of interdependence with others; other people have different ideas and different ways of doing things, and you actually produce a far better result. And everybody is better off in the process. So I would say, don't think you have to go through this alone forever and you probably shouldn't do that.
We did everything on our own, it was up to us. We did the advocating. We tried to make everything work all the time. And what I didn't realize is that it was taking a physical toll on me. And by the time I figured it out, it was the doctor telling me that I had cancer. And all the stress and the weight of the world that I put on me to make Ben's life better was actually killing me. And it was such a ridiculous wake-up call, something that I wouldn't want anyone else to go through. And it was at that point that you realize that you could not do it all on your own and you really should find a way to bring in the support and figure out a way through it.
CARING SUPPORT: What are the main tools caregivers need to have when it comes to caring for a loved one?
MIKE GEORGE: I would start with figuring out what's the best home care situation for you. What does that look like? And then start to build around that. To make home care work for anybody, it comes down to first finding the right person, and what I mean by the right person, is outside caregiving help. That might mean only an hour or two a day. It might mean round the clock care. It all really depends on your needs. And that's the first thing you want to figure out, how to make it work so that you can have a life and you're not driving yourself into the ground as the family caregiver or the primary one. So, finding the right person is key. And I know that what you guys do at Caring Support, that matching is really, really important. And it can go a long way than sort of a manual search of people.
The second thing is to know that your home needs to be organized. It needs to be set up in such a way so that the care flows easily. We've learned that when you have a caregiver coming into your home, your home becomes their workplace. So that's a unique situation and how you make that work for everybody is important. So, getting yourself set up and organized, and determining how you do things will make your life and your caregiver's life so much easier, and obviously your loved ones too.
And then the third part of it is what we focus on in a lot of our coaching, which is developing a respectful relationship with everybody. People are people; people come in and they have their own personal lives. They have things that are bothering them. And how do you keep them bringing their best every day? Because if they're bringing their best, then the whole situation is going to be a much better experience for everybody. So those three pieces together are really the tools that people need to have in order to make this all kind of flow nicely.
CARING SUPPORT: What are the most important things you have learned from your son Ben?
MIKE GEORGE: Great question. I guess the first thing that comes to mind is to never take no for an answer. I can't tell you how many times people have told us he has no potential to do this, that, or the other thing. And in a way, they're right. But what it comes down to really is if you provide people with enough support and the right support, they can accomplish pretty much anything.
And so that was kind of the first part, even when someone said "no, he can't do that, he'll never go to school, he'll never do this, that, and the other thing", we don't believe anybody anymore. It's just "okay, how do we make it work if that's important?" And, you know, obviously Ben's not going to be a brain surgeon, but, you know, so what? There are lots of other things that he could do, right?
The second thing is that everybody has hopes and dreams, and never to diminish those, regardless of whether they can express them in a way that you can understand. That's something that we've always... I guess in the early days, we just assumed Ben should follow the normative pathways of life, like his siblings would. And so we assumed that as a five-year-old, a ten-year-old, and a 15-year-old, he would have the same hopes and dreams as everybody else in that in that age bracket. So, trying to see beyond the physical and maybe the lack of ability to communicate was something that he has taught us, and that's how we live our lives every day.
A therapist of his said this to us years ago, that if we know how to teach Ben, he knows how to learn. So it's on us to figure that out. It's not, if he's not learning, it's not because he can't. So if you find that, if you have that mindset and paradigm, it changes everything on how you behave. That and it takes a lot of people, it takes an inclusive community. It takes many things in place to make it happen, but it happens and it can happen.
CARING SUPPORT: Speaking of hiring a caregiver, what are the key aspects families need to consider?
MIKE GEORGE: Well, I think one of the things is what is it that you want this person to do, right? First and foremost, what's the purpose of bringing this person into your home? And it's as simple as what are the daily care activities? Are they companionship? Are they medical needs? Have that clear.
And it may be all of the above. It may be just part of that. So, understanding the why of what this person will do and then understanding how good, what type of person, if I can use that, what sort of attributes, what characteristics do they have? What will fit within your life and your home? You know, I often say that just because "Sally" is an RN doesn't mean Sally is going to fit into my home. She might be completely technically competent and excellent at doing a bunch of things, but there's that culture fit that doesn't happen. So those are the two things that I would say in order for you to find the right person, it's all about sort of the technical skills and the character and the fit.
CARING SUPPORT: Tell us about Soaring Families and how it came to be.
MIKE GEORGE: So it would have started a number of years ago, I guess when we're young parents figuring out if our child was going to be okay and all these problems. You just want someone to tell you that it will be okay. You want all the answers to your questions, which sometimes there aren't answers. And so it started out before that. The first thing we longed for was interaction with other parents in similar situations who were farther down the path, to learn from them, maybe. And, you know, in the nineties when Ben was born, you didn't have Facebook, you didn't have, high-speed Internet, if you could even imagine that. And you had to call people or you had to write letters. And so, the instant feedback and conversations weren't there. But nevertheless, once you did have them you learned so much from them. And I remember when Ben was just a little boy, over a year old, we took a trip to SickKids in Toronto because we thought that they would have seen thousands of Bens in the world and they could help us.
And in some ways they did but what we learned, what we got most out of, was the other parents we interacted with there. And that sort of started longer friendships. And that went from if we had had sort of a story of "here's what you're going to go through", "here are some of the things..." the day that Ben was born, that would have been hugely valuable.
So the first, I guess, iteration of Soaring Families was I decided I was going to write a book and I did, and it took me a long time to put it together and to self-publish it. But it's basically a chronology and a story of what it was like to live through Ben's first five years of life and some of the ups and downs and all the things you go through. And it started from there that we wanted to really help others because we knew if we had that, that would have helped us a lot. And then it has since evolved to what's probably the most impact we could have with people. And as I said earlier, it's really understanding you can't do it on your own, and the biggest change, the biggest positive impact you can have is figuring out how do you build the team around you. How do you hire a caregiver? And that's where soaring families focus is now, is really showing people how to do that so that it works for everybody.
CARING SUPPORT: Tell us about your pilot program for families who want to better support a loved one who needs special care.
MIKE GEORGE: Sure, so a few years ago we put an online training course together. It's called "The Caregiver Support Formula", and it's basically a step by step on how you find the person, how do you bring them into your home, how you set up your home, and how you manage that relationship. So all the things we talked about earlier, it's all in an end-to-end training program and online video like this to show people really how to do it, because there is a formula that we've learned to follow to do this repeatedly and it works.
And what we found is that it's a big decision point for people to actually make that call, to say "okay, I'm going to bring somebody in." That's a hard place for them to go. And so we sort of went down that route and not only that but then, once you do make that decision, how do you find the time to teach yourself and go through it? Some people have done that. Some people have purchased the training and gone through it, and they've been really successful. But what we saw that was missing was the interaction and the learning you can do in a group setting. So we've created this group coaching program, which we finished the pilot a few weeks ago, where we take people through the formula, but it's in an online interactive mode. And we help them with the concepts, we help them with their questions, and people learn.
The feedback we've gotten from it is that one of the biggest things that they've learned from it is that they're now part of a community and they feel supported and they get the confidence because there are other people with them. So that's what we want to do moving forward, the online training is great and that's the nuts and bolts of it, but the extra part where we can actually coach people and help people is the interaction that we're doing with this pilot program. And in fact, we're going to take it to the second version and the next level and hope to launch it on June 1st, and we'll be looking for families to sign up for that and help to transform how they see caregiving, how they look at what it means to bring people into their home and why that's really important.
We've reached the end of this interview. If you would like to listen to its full version, please visit our podcast or our YouTube Channel, where you will find this and other interesting content related to the healthcare field. And for more information on our platform, visit the main page of our site caringsupport.com.
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