Parenting v. Caregiving
Until recently, I’ve been hesitant to refer to myself as a “caregiver” — I mean, aren’t all parents “caregivers”? The short, more obvious answer is — yes, of course, we all care for our children. But, in all honestly, I’m more and more aware of the difference between “parent” and “caregiver” as each day passes. I’m starting to understand that caregiving is what I do on top of parenting. For starters, as I work my way back into having some semblance of a social life, and as I read and hear about what other parents with children the same age are experiencing, I’ve become more aware of what is and isn’t “normal”. It’s as if we haven’t quite left the newborn stage in some ways — or like we have one child who is in many different stages at the same time. For example, at the age of three, other typically developing children are expressing their needs verbally, and even meeting their needs independently — walking to the fridge to get something to eat, or choosing which toys to play with and retrieving it themselves. As a caregiver, I must not only meet all of my child’s needs, but anticipate them based off of very little evidence. I still have to carry my child from point A to point B, anticipate when he may be bored of being in a certain spot or a certain position, anticipate when he may be hungry, anticipate when he may want to play with a different toy — and then act on these anticipations.
Caregivers use equipment to feed their children or help them breathe. Caregivers have binders of emergency scenarios and protocol for their babysitters — if they can even get babysitters. Caregivers advocate for their children’s healthcare, education, and human rights on a daily basis. Caregivers choose when and where they take their children very strategically — whether running errands or planning a family trip. It’s just different. This isn’t a complaint, I would tell anyone on any given day that I wouldn’t have it any other way. It’s more of a revelation, an acceptance of the role I have as a mother and as a caregiver.
It’s not easy being parent and caregiver, and I feel so guilty saying that because I lead a very privileged life. I have access to help, although it’s not always easy to find, I have a roof over my head, food to eat, transportation, and support from wonderful friends and family. I’m still exhausted. It is quite the adjustment to now have my child in a phase where he is more mobile and engaging in more physical / rough play, wants my attention all the time, yet can’t talk to me and tell me what he wants or needs. It’s like have a newborn, one year old, two year old, and three year old all at the same time in the same little body. Not only is my brain going at full capacity all of the time, but my body turns into a wet noodle by the end of the night from all of the lifting, playing, wrestling, and handling equipment. My son has physical limitations — but no lack of physical strength. And as he grows bigger and gets heavier, it takes more of a toll on my own body. For now, I’m keeping up as best I can, but I may have to beef up my exercise routine soon — you know, in all the free time I have.
The reality is, as tired as I am, I’m fortunate to have to option to stay home with my child to raise him until he gets strong enough to handle being in a school / group setting. Many men and women do not have the luxury of this option. And as I sit here on the plane to Washington DC to go house hunting for our next (temporary) move, I already miss my son — although I am also grateful for the opportunity to see my husband and have some alone / adult time for a couple of days.
While I am living in DC, I plan to “study” the city’s accessibility, infrastructure, and options for caregivers and their children — just as I did during our time in Birmingham, Alabama. My goal is to implement what I can in NOLA when we come back to make our community a better place for parents and caregivers of all social, economic, and ethnic backgrounds in order to improve the quality of life for families like us in the long run.
That’s why I write these blogs, that’s why I pay attention to my feelings and thoughts and share them with you here.
Thanks for (virtually) listening.
Mom, Caregiver, Wife, Musician