If you're homeschooling a child with a physical, emotional, or learning disability--or if you're homeschooling while attending to an elder or disabled family member at the same time, then you've got an extra set of challenges. Navigating byzantine healthcare rules to ensure your child or parent receives the support she needs is enough to keep one up at nights. In the morning comes the routine of educating your kids. Perhaps there is a job to attend to as well. One must soldier on.
When working with adults in this situation, I gently remind them in addition to being a parent and teacher they are in the added role of "caregiver." Yes, that role is implied in the word "parent" but it's not exactly the same thing. We need to better understand it, however, because acknowledging it is the first step in addressing the challenges that come with that role.
Parenting demands that we slowly back off and allow our children to assume greater responsibility for their self-care, but caregiving for a child with a disability often demands that parents continue to perform valuable support functions for our children--perhaps into the teen or adult years.
Over time, this can be exhausting and result in significant caregiver stress.
Caregiver stress is a real problem. Typically it's discussed solely through the lens of eldercare. This is unfortunate as stress can attend any caregiving situation and, left unaddressed, can reduce the caregiver's quality of life and harm her own health.
The Mayo Clinic has a helpful page on caregiving in general that also addresses caregiver stress. Here's a snippet:
As a caregiver, you may be so focused on your loved one that you don't realize that your own health and well-being are suffering. Watch for these signs of caregiver stress:Does any of this sound familiar to you?
Too much stress, especially over a long time, can harm your health. As a caregiver, you're more likely to experience symptoms of depression or anxiety. In addition, you may not get enough physical activity or eat a balanced diet, which only increases your risk of medical problems, such as heart disease and diabetes.
- Feeling tired most of the time
- Feeling overwhelmed and irritable
- Sleeping too much or too little
- Gaining or losing a lot of weight
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
If so, then the most important thing you can do is to begin talking about your stress. Find a friend, hire a counselor, talk to a faith leader in your community, reach out to friends online via a private group... whatever it takes. A family doctor may be useful, too, particularly if he or she can provide support to help you address your own health issues.
Depending upon your unique situation, it may be helpful to outsource some household and/or caregiving tasks using an online organizational tool such as LotsaHelpingHands.com. If that's not feasible, then you may want to streamline your household and your lifestyle as much as possible to minimize demands on your time and energy.
Remember that while there are certainly intangible rewards to caregiving, there can be a high toll. Again, from the Mayo Clinic:
Caregiver stress is the emotional and physical strain of caregiving. Individuals who experience the most caregiver stress are the most vulnerable to changes in their own health. [emphasis mine]That's right--if we caregivers don't learn to manage their stress and take care of ourselves, then we may weaken our bodies and drain our resolve. In turn, we may be unable to keep up with our caregiving tasks and a vicious cycle begins.
Now tell me, my fellow caregivers, isn't that reason enough to make positive changes?