A 2011 Care.com Guest Writer Contest, hosted on my blog, asked all promising scribes to tell us about themselves and their families. Selecting this winner proved to be an incredibly difficult process – there are so many parents with such moving and inspirational stories! Our panel of judges finally narrowed the selection down to two mothers, Valerie and Kelsey. Both told their life stories with intense passion and heart wrenching honesty. Both are potentially facing the greatest challenges of their lives. And we had no choice but to choose both as the winners of our contest.
For this blog post, I’d like to introduce you to Valerie, from Ohio: writer, wife, daughter, and mother of two. Over the past year, Valerie has been facing a reality that increasing numbers of Americans share. At the same time that she and her husband were balancing work with caring for their two children (ages 4 and 6), Valerie’s father grew sick, and she became his main caregiver. About four months ago, her father passed away, and she has since continued to care for her mother, who has moved to an independent living apartment. To understand how she got through such a tough time in her life and continues to balance care for her children and her mom, the Care Team and I asked her to share some insights into what it's like to be caught in the middle:
What has been the most stressful part about caring for your mom while still caring for your young kids?
Feeling guilty all the time – feeling guilty that I’m schlepping my four-year-old to mom’s doctor appointments and guilty when mom calls to chat and I am trying to get dinner on the table with the kids vying for attention.
What was the hardest aspect of explaining your dad’s passing to your kids?
We were lucky in some ways because the kids were so young that while they understood, they were both too young to feel the pain of grief. I’m so glad they didn’t have to experience the pain. That would have been really hard.
In what ways are you still struggling with the loss?
Because I was the main caregiver for my dad throughout his treatment, I still relive many of those moments we shared: driving to doctor appointments, sitting through chemo and watching his pain escalate as he slipped away that last day. These flashbacks are still so vivid.
What is the best thing someone can do for a friend who has lost a parent?
Be there. Call. Show up with dinner. Take the kids for a while. Don’t just offer to help. Show up and help. One of my dearest friends, who lives four hours away, drove up the day after dad died and stayed for a night, just to help out with whatever. I am still so deeply touched by her caring enough to be there.
What do you look for when hiring a caregiver for your family?
In this day and age, we all have to be cautious. Background checks and reference checks are so important. But ultimately, I think hiring someone to care for my family comes down to a feeling that it is right. Call it Mom’s intuition, you know when it’s right and you know when it’s not. That inner voice has been my strongest guide.
How do you create time for yourself?
I workout. Well, I did until I broke my leg running on September 1. Yes, in addition to all this, I will be wearing the Aircast for two more weeks. Thankfully, I broke my left leg, not my right, so I am still able to drive and walk without crutches. Before the broken leg, I would hit the gym 4 or 5 times a week with my girlfriend. We’d jump on the elliptical trainers and gossip for 45 minutes. Throughout this year there have been many tears on that elliptical, but it’s been good therapy for me. I can’t wait to get back to the gym.
What advice can you offer parents new to the Sandwich Generation?
Take it one day at a time, but that’s been my advice since having kids. Ask me again when this phase of life is through. I’m sure I’ll have great advice then.
Read more about Valerie’s story:
Next week, meet our other contest winner, Kelsey: “Yes, I am a single mother. Yes, I am a college student. Yes, I am that waitress who brought out your steak dinners and scrubbed down the table when you left.” Stay tuned.
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