As we approach transitions in our life, it becomes more common to experience a parent or loved one falling ill or passing. We don’t talk about it enough, and it feels like a taboo subject. It makes us face harsh realities, even questioning our own mortality. Unfortunately, for many of us, we will be like the peanut butter and jelly between two slices of whole wheat bread… sandwiched. Taking care of our children on one side and an adult in need on another. We are the filling that that holds it all together, but it doesn’t always feel sweet. Here are a few things to consider and some words I found helpful on my personal journey caring for my mother and my own children simultaneously:
1) Patience – This is something you will learn over, and over, and over. And just when you believe you’ve got it, you’ll learn it again. Taking deep breaths and giving yourself time outs from both ends of the care taking spectrum is vital to managing the stress.
2) Laughter – It’s the glue that held my broken soul together. Learning to laugh was the only way I survived as a caregiver. An ER nurse once told me “laughter and tears release the same stress chemical, if you can laugh through the tears, then you won’t have to cry so often”. She was right. There is plenty of time for tears AND they are healthy, but there is much more joy in laughter.
3) Self Care – If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t possibly take care of anyone else. If the cup is empty, nobody has water to drink.
4) Resources – I can’t emphasize enough how many there are, but finding them is tough. Reach out to others who have walked the road before you. Believe me, they want to help and it’s not worth trying to reinvent the wheel. Additionally, respite care was my salvation. It gave me time to breath and take care of myself. This was a vital resource amongst the many treasures I found that were helpful.
5) Support – Caregiver support groups were (and are!) my salvation. Hearing others and their journey has added comfort. Bigger than that, having friends and family who understand is important, but be open minded that this won’t include everyone; the harsh reality is that being the primary caretaker is not the popular role and you may find you are often alone on the journey.
6) Safety – Having conversations with your children about the health and safety of your loved ones in need of care can be difficult, yet, it is important that they understand the challenges and how they can be helpful. This can be very confusing for them also. They will appreciate explanations, and they can also be your biggest support. There were days when I was broken and crying but my stepdaughter came in with hugs. While she didn’t understand everything, she knew enough to be a helpful voice of reason. Children understand more than they are given credit.
7) Grieve – This is something I learned the hard way. We spend so much time in the realms of crisis and decision making that we forget to grieve the situation. This is important to our sanity and this is hard, so don’t forget to be sad too.
8) Partner Support – Don’t forget about your partner. Check in. Schedule time. It’s easy to fall into the roles of parenting and care taking and before you know it, you’re just roommates with leadership roles. Don’t let these changes define you, but instead let them teach you and bring you together. After all, it is through the storms that the roots of trees can grow deeper.