December 27, 2021

A Caregiving Person

I'm WillowjakMama!

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. Now it's my favourite place to be.

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Over the course of my life I have been a caregiver in so many capacities that I’m not sure where to start. It is so much a part of who I am and I assume myself as a caregiver without someone asking me or telling me to. I feel like it often falls in my lap, but I think it’s because I volunteer myself- I really like it. I like being needed and wanted in my relationships. It feels natural to be a caregiver to others!

When I was 12 years old, I started little babysitting gigs. I would babysit my sister while my parents were at work, I would babysit the neighbour kids and I would babysit my cousins. I have always loved being around babies and kids and would find them in any setting to hang out with. I never really saw this as a caregiving role, but looking back through my life and sorting through my experiences as a caregiver, I can definitely see that this was my first experience in this role as there were definite sacrifices that were made to be the neighbourhood babysitter. It meant that I was saying no to sleepovers with my friends, it meant that I wasn’t going to the movies on a Friday night. Being a babysitter was my first exposure to saying no to what I wanted to put the needs of others first. It wasn’t a burden at all, I was making a couple bucks and I was then able to buy some extras that my parents couldn’t always afford. It was a good trade-off.

As I grew up, finished university and started choosing my career, I always thought about what I wanted to do and how I wanted to help others. It was just instinct to find a career that would be a positive influence or support to other people’s lives. I started in the world of therapy at about 17 years old and never looked back. My cousins Owen and Will were diagnosed around that time and I was in awe of the strides they made through early intervention and I wanted in on that! Since then, my career has been completely immersed in the challenges of families affected primarily by autism and offering support in making their lives easier. For the last 10 years, I have been working with a team that is driven by the need to help and provide strategies for families that struggle to function day to day. I spend time after hours thinking about how I can give support and care into the lives of the parents. I’m answering phone calls and text messages late at night so that Moms and Dads don’t feel so alone. I may not be in the home caring for their children 24/7 but I am indirectly a lifeline to a lot of parents that just need someone to hear them and give them a squeeze, or throw them a lifebuoy when they feel like they’re drowning. I take a lot of pride in the work that I do and I feel a genuine connection to each of my families and continue to feel motivated by the caregiving role that I provide to the children, aides and parents that I work with daily. Being a caregiver in my work is one of the greatest joys of my life and I feel honoured to be that person for so many people. There are some challenges in being in a caregiving role at work too though. There is always the challenge with creating boundaries; I struggle with boundaries everywhere in my life, let’s be real about that. I want to save everyone and everything and I often cross my own personal boundaries to help others which then causes resentment. It is a big challenge to offer a hand to people and go above and beyond what your job description is and not expect anything in return. Over time I have grown to realize that a lot of the parents that I have worked with are emotionally and mentally depleted and therefore cannot always meet my appreciation needs or understand that there are things that I choose to do that are not part of the job requirements. Learning to navigate where my personal boundaries are has been an overall challenge, but I think that that comes with the territory of the caregiving role, especially when it is in a professional capacity.

When I was 25 years old my Dad was diagnosed with ALS. This was the first time in my life where caregiving became part of my identity in a personal capacity. I live 3 provinces away from my family so, being a direct caregiver during that time was not a possibility however, I was a phone call away from my Mom who was struggling mentally and emotionally. It was almost more of a challenge being so far away because I couldn’t physically help in anyway. It was so hard! I did everything I could do during that time. I would pay for some of my parent’s bills as working was not an option for periods of time for them. I would buy some furniture that my Dad needed as his disease progressed so that that was not a financial burden to them. I would go home for months at a time as frequently as I could. I have to admit though, being with my Dad was such a challenge for me that I ran away. My Mom said many times that she was surprised by my reaction and my inability to be there for my Mom and Dad in a physical capacity. It was too hard for me emotionally. I attribute the challenge to the fact that I would not see my Dad for months at a time and come back to a completely different and declining version of him. It was heartbreaking. I give kudos to anyone who is capable and able to care for an ailing parent or loved one. I wasn’t able to do it in the way I wished I could have. I have a lot of regrets about that time in my life!

Parenting. I think it is the role that most readers can and will relate to. Parenting is the most involved, challenging, bring you to your knees caregiving role that I have experienced. It is exhausting and it never goes away. Even when the kids are not with us, I’m still thinking about their needs, wants and worries. I think about my interactions and how it will affect their future. I think about how I corrected them and worry about their self-esteem and self-worth. It’s caregiving on a whole other level. When I met my husband (p.s. we got married this month), my relationship with the kids went from nights at the movies, and trips to the mall to BAM!!! completely responsible for their transportation, extra-curricular, educational needs, financial needs, medical needs etc. etc. Parenting is the ultimate caregiving role for so many reasons. Parenting never ends. Parenting follows you in your sleep (or lack thereof), parenting changes relationships, how you spend your time, energy and resources, parenting ultimately means the biggest sacrifices to every aspect of your life. My money was no longer mine, my time was no longer mine. Everything about me was completely immersed in being a stepparent. Being the caregiver to young children is such a test to your own personal boundaries and a test to yourself in not getting lost in the whirlwind that is parenting.

It’s funny because I don’t think of my caregiving roles in my day to day life, they are just who I am. What caregiving means to me is being responsible or participating in the care and needs of someone in their most vulnerable states. It is being the pillar and strength through turmoil and challenge. To me, it is being the empathy and kindness that people need when they are feeling the most sad, scared, or worried. Caregiving is being the support where there is fragility. It is being the educator, friend and confidant for growth. When I read this back, it made me feel really at peace about that. What an amazing opportunity that I have been given! What a privilege to be that to someone! My experience with caregiving in my personal and professional life has been exhausting, draining and frustrating. It has caused me the most pain. It has pushed my personal boundaries and it has proven my strength time and time again. Being a caregiver has caused a lot of resentment, hostility, anger and fear as well and it has made me feel alone and sad. It has also been some of the most amazing parts of my life too. I feel complete by being in my role as a Stepmom. I have felt great joy through my professional role as a therapist. I feel grateful and proud of my caregiving role throughout my life as it is so much a part of who I am, and so much a part of my identity that I do not think about myself as a person in a caregiving role; rather a caregiving person.

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Michelle Devine

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Hi, I'm Stacey.
Welcome to the
Willowjak Blog 

My blog started as a way to document my journey to wellness, but turned into a place to be inspired by others through our collective messy & authentic stories. We chat about themes that are often ignored and voices that aren't often given a chance at the mic. Now it's my favourite place to be. 

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