Recently I stopped to chat with one of our Villa Park neighbors and recognized she had entered the land of “where is my life.”
Over the past year there has been significant health issues with her husband and his mom (now on hospice), her own physical problems, along with 2 children under the age of 5.
They all live together and have for years. She works as a teacher in middle school(glutton for punishment but somebody has to do it!) The school calendar, I believe, was her saving grace. Her job gives her time off and has also allowed her to escape from her own personal life. She stated “I just want things to go back to normal. I’m having a hard time dealing with all of this.”
I have been there on several occasions myself. I consider this a time when family member’s needs truly take priority over our own. This is not said lightly (I am a big believer in self care and balance.) When taking care of small children and/or the dying we have an ethical obligation to make sure they are safe, have food and shelter, appropriate medical attention and most importantly feel secure and loved.
It used to be…you grew up got married and had children. Children were grown before parents became too “old” or “sick” to care for themselves. If you were lucky you had a break between caring for your children and assisting your parents. Now, people are having their children later in life and these two very normal phase of life stages collide! As the care providers to the old and young, you must continually adjust to mood, health and energy levels including your own .
It is a complicated road map that can drive us to emotional disaster. Struggling with not being able to get to where we thought we were going and when we planned to get there. As adults, we hopefully have an understanding of what is comfortable for us. How much we can handle, what we do for work and how we manage our time. We understand that when we decided to have children there would be sacrifice, sleepless nights and worry. In the planning phase of family we don’t usually account for the unexpected. It is how we deal with the big and small disasters of life that tell us about our character.
What Speed Am I On?
I reflected my own experience many years ago when I was responsible for my daughters then 4 and 11, my 85 year spinster great aunt, and my loving husband. We had 3 dogs, 3 fish, 2 cats and another senior citizen who lived with us. I equated the experience to being on at least 3 speeds at the same time- hurry for this and slow down for that!
Providing constant entertainment for my 4 year old at lunch 2 times per week with my aunt who ate slowly do to lack of energy and keeping her teeth in her mouth was interesting. What saved me was dessert! The common thread between my youngest and Aunt Mary was dessert…everyone was happy at that moment!
As I shared this with my neighbor she shook her head knowing that I understood how she felt. A look of relief crossed her face as I validated her experience and frustration. She was not alone! There are lots of us out there! Darting and dodging traffic in order to survive this part of our journey often missing out on the beauty of the experience.
Strategies for Coping
- Remind your self that nothing lasts forever. It can’t. We are in a constant state of development and change. You know….AGING! Accept that for now this is your new normal.
- Focus on what is right and good about the situation. Let’s face it it is easy to focus on the unpleasant parts on life. Learning to laugh and appreciate the experience can be helpful. To this day my daughter remembers when Aunt Mary’s teeth came flying across the table at her while eating dessert. I remember the look on my daughter’s face and the sound of Mary’s laughter. Both are to be treasured!
- Make your trip to the grocery store by yourself for pampers and depends a highlight! It might only take you 15 minutes but you can go as fast or slow as you want. You can yell, cry, sing or swear at strangers! Your call.
- Get help. Friends and even neighbors are usually more than willing to help. We just to have the courage to ask! Remember Villa Park is a wonderful supportive community!
- Explore professional help. Sometimes we are not even aware of possible services that are available. This could be as simple as a babysitter and/or housekeeper, or a professional caregiver. Keep an open mind to suggestions offered by the medical community and educators.
- Try to develop a plan where you have some one on one quality time with each person involved. Maybe it is baking cookies together, a card game or a snuggle and a movie. Be sure to reflect on the specialness of each relationship.
- Make sometime for yourself away from the stressors. Everyone needs a break.
- Sleep and nutrition are especially important. Staying healthy can be difficult when you are tapped physically and emotionally.
- This might sound contradictory but don’t for get to eat dessert…it makes life a little sweeter!
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