How Long Until I Get It Right? The Myth of “Balance” in Caregiving
Note: I originally published this post on my old blog on 06/29/2017. And exactly three years later it still rings true. I am re-posting here to show that after three years, actually 30+ years, I am still a work in progress. I am still trying to get it right while trying to remember that “right” isn’t always easy, and the balancing act of parenting, caregiving, and being a wife, friend, employee, person, is not so much about perfection, its about persistence, perseverance, and progress. I don’t have this all figured out, I still struggle with being burned out, worn out, and stressed out. But I am not out. I am in, and I am not giving up.
“How long ‘til my soul gets it right? Will any human being ever reach that kind of light?”-Indigo Girls
One of my favorite song lyrics and a refrain that often runs through my head whenever I am having ‘one of those days.’ We all have them, though they look different to each one of us. Recently, I had ‘one of those’ weekends. My mother, who is disabled, was having some complications due to surgery and needed my undivided attention. Literally. I could not think about the fact that summer reading wasn’t getting done, the laundry was piling up, and I hadn’t seen my kids for longer than 5 minutes for 3 days. My husband and I communicated only briefly and mostly in texts. It was evident to me at the time that this was the right decision. There was no other choice. It was necessary and right that I was with my mother, assisting in her care, and being her advocate when she couldn’t speak while on a ventilator.
But there must have been something in the back of my mind telling me that I was doing something wrong or that I could do something better.
As I entered into the week, I remembered that I promised my son a fun week with his friends and arranged for a series of activities and sleepovers. Yes, I did this after a weekend with no sleep, but I felt it was important to honor my promise to my son.
Perhaps I also did it to quiet the feeling that I wasn’t giving my children the attention they needed, that it wasn’t ‘their fault’ that my mom was sick and I had to be away. Or the comparison I make to other moms I know who seem to squeeze in multiple activities while managing full-time jobs or ailing parents too.
Things are going well: Mom is at home, there have been 2 successful days of my son hanging out with friends, and a successful or unsuccessful sleepover (if the kids stay up all night is that success or failure?). Still, something is reminding me that when I am with my mom, I am not with my kids who need me. When I am with my children, I am not with my mom, who needs me.
And I constantly wonder why I can’t figure this out? Why is this so hard? How long till my soul gets it right?
How am I going to care for my mom in the way she needs and be intentional and present with my children? Is there a formula, a calendar, a course, a study I can use to make sure I am doing it right? There are plenty of things out there telling me what I should be doing as a caregiver, and my inbox is full of blog posts and tips on how to be a better wife and mother. Say this prayer, do this devotional with your kids, practice active listening, put away your smartphone…you get the idea.
And then there’s all the stuff that says, “don’t forget to take time for you!” Yeah? Really? When am I supposed to do that?
Before or after the healthy meal I’m expected to prepare, the quality family night I should be doing, the date night with my husband, or when I am trying to spend time with my mom that doesn’t include medications or doctors’ appointments? When I do one of these things or attempt to do them, something else that is ‘good’ gets left off.
I have to make choices, and sometimes the choice is between two good things, and there are no easy answers. Sometimes I feel like I get it right, but most of the time my soul feels like it’s all wrong.
After 30+ years as a caregiver and 13 years as a mom AND caregiver, I am still learning and coming to the realization that my soul may never get it right. Well, I guess it depends on what ‘it’ is.
So much of the time I am striving for the wrong thing.
I have struggled with perfection for most of my life. This has manifested itself in many ways throughout the years, stress about grades, body image and eating disorder issues, and the need to prove myself at work, at home. I don’t want to disappoint anyone, mostly myself.
I have set the bar high and then berate myself when I do not reach it.
When it comes to being a daughter and mom (and a wife for that matter), I want to ‘follow the rules’. Any article that says “10 things all ‘good’ moms do…” (or daughters or wives) I am all in! I read it, internalize it, and then attempt to follow that set of guidelines. I always fail miserably. I cannot get it right.
Instead of reaching for these arbitrary goals, these subjective guidelines that change with every new blog post, I want to seek something that is permanent, true, and attainable.
As a Christian, I know that ‘my soul’ was not meant to get some things right. I am not supposed to be perfect. I will not be able to be perfect or perfectly meet the needs of those I love. I wasn’t designed for that. I was designed to love God and love others. I may not be able to get it right, to always be the perfect representation of what I am to my family and friends. But I can love them.
Love doesn’t have a set of ‘rules’ either. I can’t follow a list to get it right, but I can follow Christ’s example of loving others.
Sure, this is something in which I will want to achieve perfection. However, though I can follow His example, only Jesus can love like Jesus- with total devotion, undivided attention, with perfection. My job isn’t to do that, only to seek it, wrap myself in it, and reflect it in my interactions with others. My role is not to love perfectly but to point to the One who does. In this there is no striving for perfection, just practicing my purpose.
Go. Connect. Serve. Love. Not who is on my ‘list,’ but who is in my life.