Caring for the Caretaker
You’ve heard the phrase, “If mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!” or some version of the same. There’s a lot of wisdom in those words, much truth. But let’s not limit ourselves to mothers. Families take all different shapes, and the responsibility for raising children does not solely fall to the mother any longer. So, this blog refers to everyone who is responsible for caring for children. Grandma & grandpa, aunts, uncles, siblings, neighbors, nannies, and of course, mom AND dad. There can be a lot of stress in caring for any child, but now let’s say that child has some special needs that require extra time and consideration. The stress is even heavier. Daily care becomes even harder as well as worries about the future.
One of your responsibilities is most likely knowing what your child is doing every moment of every day, knowing where he is and who is responsible for him at any given minute. Your children are constantly looked after in the best way you can manage. They are involved in healthy activities, have the best nutrition, and you try to keep them as happy and secure as possible. When that child is your responsibility, you are extra vigilant, keeping her safe and cared for in the best way. Maybe you are not only attending doctor appointments and school meetings but are bringing him to therapies and special classes. You are trying to make sure that no stone is unturned in your quest to help your children achieve their best potential.
So, the next question is obvious; what are you doing for YOU? Did you put your interests on hold to make room for your child or children? It is very difficult to find time and energy for ourselves, especially when our days are filled with caring for others. Maybe at the end of each day, it’s all you can do to pull yourself into bed and attempt to get a decent night’s sleep (for the Importance of Sleep, please see the blog regarding this subject). Once you become responsible for a child, you automatically put yourself last. Still, how long can a person go on if they keep putting themselves at the bottom of a long list of people to care for?
Coming up with the time for ourselves, as difficult as it may be to find the time, and as unnatural it may be to make ourselves a priority, needs to be considered a requirement. It is part of what makes you you, what keeps you balanced and centered. It’s a break from that very demanding job, a small vacation even if it is only a short time a day. Just a few minutes even, so long as it’s yours alone. Try to figure out what might get you through your day better, what would be a good break for you, and work at inserting it into your day or week.
Making the time can be done, but it needs to be a priority. We are not talking about a full day requiring everyone to move heaven and earth for you, although that would be so nice! First, let’s just shoot for 10-15 minutes. If your child is being taken care of by someone else, can you extend that just a bit so you can do something for yourself? Are you able to wake up just a little earlier to fit in some “me” time? Can a co-caretaker give you that break as you do the same for them? Single parents have the toughest schedule of all, especially those with more than one child. It’s okay to ask for a little help here, such as from a friend in a similar situation where you can reciprocate. You don’t even need to leave your home, just the room.
The fun part is figuring out what you can do to take care of yourself. Maybe just an uninterrupted bath, and be sure to light a candle or two. Give yourself a facial. Play the video games YOU like. There are some great meditation-based apps, some free even, that can whisk you away for a short time wherever you are. Maybe you need some pure escapism reading, whatever does that for you. Have you tried the adult coloring books? Or any other craft that is easy to pick up and put down (read: minimal mess and set up). Listening to music or to your favorite podcasts can be very refreshing. Put that together with a walk outdoors, and you have a winning combination. Immersing yourself in nature can be so rejuvenating whether it be a few minutes in a pretty garden or a walk in the woods or playing with a pet. Exercise is also very much recommended to help relieve stress. If there isn’t anyone to throw a ball with, perhaps there’s a wall nearby to help you out. Do you have a hobby you used to enjoy that you can indulge in again?
The point is, you need to make yourself a priority, sometimes just to keep yourself clear-minded and able to face a new day. What you do takes a great deal of physical and mental energy, but where do you get your supply? We are faced with challenges each day, some more than others, and we need to be ready to meet the needs of those in our care. They are depending on us. So, we need to take care of ourselves, not just keeping our bodies fit and healthy, but the mind also. In reading about this subject, I came across some inspirational quotes that I will share with you in hopes they help drive home the importance of keeping yourself a priority and therefore continuing to be the great caretaker you are.
- You can’t pour from an empty cup.
- Taking care of yourself is part of taking care of your kids.
- I refuse to please others at the expense of my emotional well-being. Even if it means saying, “no” to people who are used to hearing, “yes.”
- Her life changed the day she learned that she was just as valuable as everyone else.
AND MY FAVORITE:
- You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others people warm.
Nancy E.A. Weiss, MOT, OTR/L