I believe caregiving is the toughest job on the planet. I have had a lot of jobs, and nothing compares. The exhaustion I often feel at the end of the day is brutal. Caregivers often feel like they have no choice or other options. They could relinquish the care to someone else, but they want to do it themselves. While we know the job is difficult, it is also rewarding. We know we will care for our family well and meet their needs. We value our ability to provide impeccable care for our loved ones. But what about our care? Are we providing the same impeccable care to ourselves that we lavish on others freely? I would bet that most of us, myself included, would answer no.
Last year I began working with the group We Are Brave Together. This organization, founded by Jessica Patay, is on a mission to support moms caring for children with unique needs. We Are Brave Together wants to be a lifeline for moms to get the respite and support they desperately need. They provide opportunities through local support group meetings and weekend retreats. It is an honor to work with We Are Brave Together.
During my short time with this organization, I have witnessed firsthand the resistance and obstacles caregivers struggle with that prevent them from taking time for themselves. I have heard stories of health issues that went untreated because they did not have the support to care for their child. They are not only lacking time off, vacations, or spa days, but missing out on mammograms, dental check-ups, sleep, showers, doctor’s appointments, proper nutrition, and other basic human needs. Many ignore the care that is required to live a healthy life while making sure every need of loved ones are met. These women have been unable to sustain, create, or find the support they need.
Supporting caregivers is not easy because the obstacles and struggles seem impossible to overcome. Some of the reasons moms have given me for not being able to attend support group meetings or seeking support are:
- I am the only one that can care for my child
- I don’t want to be a burden to someone else.
- I don’t have the money to pay for help.
- I have no one to leave my child with so I can get a break.
- It’s my job to care for my child.
- Other parents do it alone. I should be able to as well.
- I have no one I can lean on for help.
- I don’t have time to take care of myself.
- I don’t know how (or who) to ask for help.
- Finding reliable (and affordable) care is a challenge.
I empathize with many of the challenges they face. Caregivers are tough, stubborn, and relentless. They are problem-solvers. They are protective. They put everyone else above themselves. They do it mostly without complaining or asking for help. This works well until it doesn’t. The reality is none of us are meant to do this alone. No one is equipped to handle the amount of stress that full-time caregivers experience. Often our children require more time and attention than one person can provide. We are not created to care for others all the time without taking time to rest and recharge. We think rest is optional, but the truth is rest is vital.
When our cell phone’s battery charge is less than 10% we freak out. We panic to find a charging cable and a source of electricity. We worry about the battery dying and missing a call or something important. A dead cell phone is useless. Maybe if we start thinking of our bodies like our cell phones, it would trigger us to recharge them more often. We cannot continue to give without taking a moment each day to recharge. It is not sustainable. We will crash and burn. If that happens, and it will, then who will be there to take care of our loved ones that we fight for each day?
Caregiving must start with us first. When we begin to take impeccable care of ourselves, our ability to care for our loved ones improves. When we are healthy, we are more productive. Caregivers cannot hear this message enough. It is imperative that we remind ourselves daily of the value we add to our family. Give yourself permission to take the time to charge your battery a little bit each day. Take one small action daily that will improve your mental or physical well-being. Caregivers are powerful when our batteries are low. Imagine the things we could accomplish if we were 100% charged.