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.
Don't forget to take our Aging Parents Survey:
Last Wednesday, Care.com hosted a conference, sponsored by The Ladders, in New York City for human resource professionals, industry leaders and press to talk about something that all of us struggle with everyday: how to stay focused in an age of distraction.
If you’re like me, you rely on technology. It’s a lifeline to all that matters in your life. But the constant emails 24 hours a day, the persistent interruptions, the multiple screens bombarding us with messages, all make it very difficult to stay focused. We live in the tyranny of now. It’s no wonder a lot of us have trouble concentrating and being productive at work. We’re distracted at work. We’re distracted behind the wheel. And sadly, we’re distracted when we’re at home with our families.
So what are companies doing about it? We asked leading companies like Deloitte, Bloomberg, the Gilt Group and others and what we heard was a variety of strategies such as offering workers more flexibility and control over their schedules and working remotely. We learned how workplace design is changing to be more open and interactive, literally tearing down walls to help us work more efficiently together. Many companies actually offer our service as a corporate benefit to help take the stress and worry of care-giving for a child or aging parent off their employees’ shoulders. It was an enlightening day. There were many incredible speakers but I thought I’d share a few insights that I found particularly meaningful.
1. Love what you do.
2. The more energy you bring, the more you will receive.
3. Laughing is energy.
4. Our stories matter; take pride in your personal story.
5. Is the life you're living worth the price you're paying?
6. Be around people with soul.
7. See disability as a possibility.
8. Be authentic.
9. What is more important to you? Your passion or your excellence?
10. Think about your own personal mission.
11. Ask yourself "why?" with everything that you do.
12. Think differently.
These are all mantras to live by. Do you have a mantra? Please share it with me, and take our work/life fit survey! I would love to hear how you are managing your work and home life and how Care.com can help.
By now, many of you have probably purchased or are familiar with Zappos, the online retailer that has turned "happiness" into a corporate mission, not just a fun tagline. I've had the great pleasure of coming to know CEO Tony Hsieh whose book Delivering Happiness: A Path to Profits, Passion, and Purpose has not only become required reading among my employees, but also has become a bestseller. In it, Tony taps into a simple, universal truth: if you ask someone “what do you want most?” no matter what they say, if you continue to ask, “why do you want that?” eventually, we all answer the same way – because I want happiness.
Why is the concept of happiness so simple, but the pursuit so complex?
So what is it that China, Taylor Swift, and the others have in common? They are all trying to define what it means to be happy. In China, happiness has become a fad as the government switches gears from the mantra of “to get rich is glorious” to a simple, yet zealous, “be happy” campaign. A recent study of 15 other countries, published in the Journal of Politics & Policy, suggests that countries with big governments have happier citizens (the US holds the 10th place award while Norway ranks No. 1). The Economist readers are voting in the latest debate: Happiness: Are new measures of economic and social progress needed for the 21st-century economy?, and Facebook is putting together a Gross National Happiness Index based on user’s mood messages (like, “Yay, I found a babysitting job on Care.com!”). For Taylor Swift, it is talking about staying open to love and how happiness is a top priority for her. Another recent study supports this emphasis on personal connections with others, suggesting that the place we find the most happiness is in our meaningful social relationships above all else. I feel passionately that this last point is where we can put technology to work – seeking out meaningful relationships. Something that I hope we are facilitating here at Care.com.
What makes you happiest? Spending time with your family or friends? Satisfaction at work? Post a comment, and take our Happiness Poll!
As parents, we are constantly looking at our kids’ lives through the prism of our own childhood experiences. How many times have you reminisced over summer memories of lemonade stands on the side of the road or running parentless around the neighborhood, and then asked yourself, “Am I giving my kids a summer experience that is as good as – or better than – what I had?” As the results of our survey show, modern parents are juggling even more than just increasingly complex child care schedules:
In our recent Summer Care Survey, a majority of parents (58 percent) reported feeling envious of their care providers frequently, often or sometimes, while nearly 11 percent said they always felt envious.
Almost half (47%) of working parents have altered their work schedules to accommodate their children's summer schedules.
Sixty-six percent of parents have higher expectations of their summer caregivers, expecting them to arrange for more outdoor activities and be actively engaged in field trips and play.
With summer months come increased expectations – we envy our care providers more, but we also have higher expectations that they will pick up where we leave off in creating summer memories for our kids. I’ve raced home to spend time with my kids before the sun goes down, but I'm also comforted to know that there are many wonderful trusted people - including college sitters - who are available and can help make our lives not only run smoother, but provide peace of mind. Seek out families near you who are also trying to keep up the juggle. Get advice from fellow parents in the care groups and even form your own co-op for the summer.
I am happy to report that our Care Team has been hard at work, generating additional ideas and offers that will both help you construct those perfect summer memories for your family as well as do as much of the care planning for you as possible. They will be in touch, and please continue to check out the site for fun activities and summer savings.
Wishing you a memorable, fun, and safe summer!
Wow! Thanks for everyone’s comments on their busy schedules last week. A few folks in the office who aren’t parents mentioned that they noticed many of us don’t get enough sleep. I told them it was just part of parenthood.
I also observed that many of you are balancing letting the dog out with feeding time for the human members of your family. While I usually like to provide tips about family life and caregiving on this blog, this week I’m hoping that you can offer me some advice.
A few years ago, my good friend Anu came over for a visit and mentioned that she felt I wasn’t spending enough time with our dogs, Sydney and Blake. My immediate reaction was to agree and experience a surge of guilt. I explained that Ron and I tend to divide and conquer so I can maximize time with Adam when I’m not working. I do try to spend time with them on weekends.
Anu now has 2 kids under 5 years of age. During my recent visit to her place, she lamented that it’s been a struggle for her to give Yogi, her cute Chihuahua Dachshund mix, lots of attention. And it bums her out.
So instead of the usual generous helping of mommy-guilt, we’re both throwing on another thick layer of pet-guilt.
In a recent poll on our site, 83% of members responded that they considered their pets to be part of the family, like children. And this all makes sense – we dress them up, we take them everywhere we can (especially if they’re purse-sized), and then, suddenly, a new little one takes their place.
Do you experience pet-guilt, or have you mastered the art of tending to canine, feline, and human needs alike? Please post a comment, share your experience and any words of wisdom. Anu and I would both appreciate your thoughts!
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