The People Who Make My Life Happen: All About Hiring, Managing and Befriending Caregivers

Caregivers, simply put, are the people who make my life happen. And hiring and managing caregivers is essential to being an adult with SMA living life on my terms. But, no matter how many times I have to do it, hiring new personal care attendants (PCAs) is one of my least favorite things. Let me tell you why. But first, if you’re not someone who depends on PCAs for most of your daily-living needs, you’re going to need a little primer.

at a concert at Red Rocks with friend and best friend caregivers Kaylyn and Travis
At a concert with friends and caregivers Kaylyn and Travis.

PCAs come from all walks of life. Some are students, others are CNAs or military veterans. Most of my care is noninvasive and doesn’t require me to specifically hire nurses or licensed workers, so I’ve been able to find most of my help from Craigslist and student job listings in my hometown of Fort Collins, Colo. I have a handful of attendants on my staff at any given time but, in general, only one person works each shift. People who employee PCAs all have different hiring and funding systems based on the guidelines of the states we live in.

So, if that’s the worker, what’s the work? A PCA’s job is literally to facilitate my life. And as anyone knows, life changes, sometimes very rapidly. That means that the job can also change from time to time. My needs one day might not be my needs the next.

The tricky thing about hiring PCAs is that I have to turn my needs and, ultimately my life, into a job description. Believe me, it’s been a learning process. Managing staff isn’t my passion. In fact, I make it a point of telling my new hires that I’m not a born manager. I let them know I never went to school for this, nor did I ever aspire to manage a team of caregivers when I was young. Giving them a heads up allows me to explain to them that I don’t always manage my care perfectly. Nor do I think I ever will.

Posting the “help wanted” ad, sifting through applications, setting up a series of interviews, meeting strangers, asking them questions about the most personal aspects of my life and judging whether or not I want to hire them is hard, plain and simple. What’s even more difficult is picking the people who will understand the job (a.k.a me) the best, so as to make my life (a.k.a the job) as simple as possible.

Like any employer, I have a check list of attributes I’m evaluating, which includes availability, reliability and a clean background check. But the most important quality I look for in new employees is whether or not their personality and lifestyle is compatible with mine.

When you consider that this person will be helping me with literally every aspect of my daily life, it seems almost too simple to say that they need to be compatible with me. But it’s true. Personality isn’t something that can’t be taught. Therefore, you have to find someone who understands you well enough to know how you like to live your life. Trust me, it gets exhausting having to constantly explain yourself to someone who does not get it, especially when he or she is with you on a constant basis helping you with different aspects of your life. I have found a lot of success in hiring people who I feel I can get along with outside of the job. But that also has its downsides, as well. More on that in a moment.

To me, compatibility means my caregiver knows how I like to have my house cleaned, how I like to dress and how I like to communicate with others. Most important is that we enjoy doing similar things; this is essential considering that he or she has to do everything I do. I am a very social and outgoing individual. I’m an extrovert and I tend to get along with extroverts as well. It’s a lot easier for someone who is outgoing and social to work for someone outgoing and social than it is for someone who’s innately shy.

However, while it’s important for me to hire someone I get along with, this is still a job and there are still tasks that need to be done correctly. This is especially difficult when my caregiver and I cross that invisible line and become friends. This has happened to me quite often and it can be tough to switch from being a boss to a friend to a boss to a friend.

Birthday celebration for a friend in Denver with one of my best Friends Caregivers Past Roomate Brynne and mutual friends last year
Celebrating a friend’s birthday with caregiver Brynne and mutual friends.

Just as I have learned it’s important for me to hire people I can relate to and build a genuine bond with, I have also learned the importance of ending things before they become too complicated. For example, I’ve often noticed that when my personal relationships with my employees become more important to both of us than our work relationship, it’s time to move on to just being friends. It’s bittersweet when that happens: I gain a friend but lose an employee.

In short, hiring, managing and, yes, firing caregivers are no one’s favorite activities. But I’m grateful for the many wonderful people who have entered my life and helped me live it to the fullest. Without committed and compatible caregivers, I would not be able to live the independent life I enjoy.

Now, back to being the boss of me – and my employees.