Being a stay-at-home caregiver or parent can be difficult, and the difficulty has increased in the last two years since we’ve been limiting our exposure to others in various capacities. Whether you’re a caregiver to your children or other children, landed in a caregiver position because of COVID/unemployment, or get to pull the whole “we’re in quarantine/isolation, but I still have to work from home AND take care of others” situation, it can be exhausting, frustrating, and lonely at times.
My personal journey has been all over the place over the last two years. I became a work from home, take care of my daughter at the same time parent in the early months of the pandemic. After giving birth to my twin sons, I moved into a stay-at-home (no work outside of the home) caregiver role for a solid 5 months. When I slowly started back to work part time in September 2020, we were lucky enough to be able to split up the child care between myself, my husband, and my parents for a while until we found some part-time childcare for my children. We still have childcare, and I’m working full time; but, there have still been weeks over the past year that we’ve had to all be at home in the same small space while my husband and I both try to work from home and take care of our three young children. It’s difficult, overwhelming, and sometimes feels hopeless. It can start to feel lonely and isolating even when you’re surrounded by other people in your family. For those of you whose main role/job is as a stay-at-home caregiver, it can sometimes feel even more overwhelming and isolating. I hear you! I see you!
Here are some things that have helped myself and other caregivers (moms and dads) that I know who have created some connections to help feel heard, seen, and taken care of:
1. (Let’s get this one out of the way) Social Media. Social media can be a super helpful tool AND a black hole. For me personally, it creates connection and many wonderful ideas of activities to do with my kids for fun, learning, creativity, and breaking the monotony. Social media can also lead down a very dark path of comparing myself to other stay-at-home caregivers. “How does she have time for that side job?” “How do their kids sit so still for that activity?” “Wait, what time is it?! Where did nap time go?” Use social media sparingly. A helpful guideline is asking the question, ”Is this creating connection (reading about an activity, strategy, messaging a friend, etc.)?” If not, be gentle with yourself and identify that underlying need to be close to and cared for by others. What is something else that might meet that need?
2. Groups! Become a part of a group and/or start your own. This can be anything from a church group or a play group to a support group. My favorites recently have been a neighborhood exercise group that meets outside on warmer mornings and inside via Zoom on colder mornings. I also appreciate local parent/caregiver Facebook groups. They provide a space for asking questions, giving advice, being honest about joys and hardships of caregiving AND giving a shout out about play date possibilities. Any kind of group that can bring you connection, a safe place, and an opportunity to be vulnerable, care for yourself, and care for others is key.
3. Volunteer/Teach values. I like doing things by myself, but if there’s something I like more, it’s checking things off my list while the kids are awake (those precious nap time minutes are for passing out or reading or watching my favorite show while I fold laundry ☺️). Kids like to make connections too, with their peers AND with other adults in a safe environment. What about becoming volunteers at the Rockingham/Harrisonburg SPCA (https://www.rhspca.org) or at the library, your place of worship, or Adagio House. You can be present with others, make connections, and model helpful values to those you care for.
4. I always have to add this last one:Self-Compassion. Creating connection with others is important, but we often miss creating connection with ourselves. Be compassionate with yourself. You are trying your best, and the people you care for are also trying their best. I appreciate the work of Dr. Kristen Neff and her many resources for self-compassion. You can find some helpful brief exercises or long meditations to listen to on her website: www.self-compassion.org. My favorite is the “Self-Compassion Break”.
Adagio House also offers wonderful respite care both during therapy and on its own. Please feel free to contact us for more resources for groups, therapy, or other ways of connection!