Kind in the Chaos: Caring for Yourself When You Are a Full-Time Caregiver
Life is hectic these days. I have three kids with assorted special needs, personal goals to achieve, a household to run, distance learning to facilitate, and a cross-country relocation during a pandemic to navigate, as well. Am I the only one who feels like she goes-goes-goes all day long and still feels like there is so much I haven’t accomplished?
When I am feeling swamped, I can often become almost paralyzed; not knowing where to start can result in waffling, which leads to inefficiency. This only compounds the problem.
During one of my daughter, Hilde’s, long hospitalizations, when I was overwhelmed with everything I had to do, I started a habit of asking myself this question:
What can I do to be kind to myself?
I have always struggled with a tendency towards procrastination. Why do today what I can put off until tomorrow? Or, next week? But life as a special needs mom doesn’t allow for that…like, at ALL. I started asking myself versions of this question as a way of spurring myself into action.
For example, at night, if I had a sink full of breast pump equipment that needed to be washed before my pump session early the next morning… what can I do now to be kind to myself tomorrow morning? Although I was tired and could easily have collapsed into bed, I’d do the washing so that it wouldn’t be my rude awakening in the morning.
My son has severe food allergies. We have virtually zero options for take-out that will feed the whole family. It’s a massive bummer, believe me. I can’t tell you the number of times I lament not being able to order a pizza and feed everyone. Oh, the sweet simplicity of that! But, wallowing doesn’t help matters. When I am preparing meals, I take the extra time and effort to double, if not triple, a recipe so I have extra to freeze. Freezing prepared meals is another way I am kind to myself.
Recently, as we have been in the midst of a move from one coast to the other, the “overwhelm” has been mounting. Hilde has complex special needs and transitioning her medical care, therapies, interventions, and equipment is a huge undertaking. I also have two other children to get set up and settled into new schools for distance learning. I also have professional goals of my own, which I do not want to be forgotten in the mix. A few days ago, I have to admit, I was feeling pretty defeated. I hadn’t sat down all day, had been working since the early hours of the morning, had run Hilde to see two different doctors in two different cities, and more. There was no time to make a proper dinner and the kitchen was an absolute mess by the time I finally had the littlest one bathed and in bed. Boxes and packing paper were strewn everywhere. I looked at the pile of dishes in the sink and the clutter all around. I still needed to pump, as well. Ugh, I thought. This is terrible.
My mind went to the question… What can I do to be kind to myself?
This time, when I thought about it, what I really needed to do to be kind was to take a break. I needed to relax on the couch for a few and then get to bed early. I needed to rest and recharge in order to tackle a new day tomorrow. Yes, the mess would be there when I woke up, but leaving it was the kindest thing I could do for myself this time.
I also decided to take inventory of the day. Sure, I still had a mountain of tasks in front of me, but it I had been going non-stop the entire day, too. I needed to give myself credit for all that I had accomplished. When I finished my mental list, I felt a lot better. I had accomplished an impressive amount. It was kind to acknowledge it and place the focus on what had been achieved rather that what had not.
Parents, these times are challenging. Being kind to ourselves is crucial. What will you do to be kind to yourself?
Jennifer Lendvai-Lintner is a writer, writing mentor and certified Teacher of English. Together with her husband, she is raising three cherubs with assorted special needs and is committed to triumphing not in spite of tough circumstances, but because of them.
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This post originally appeared on our November/December 2020 Magazine