10 Ways To Love Yourself Through Caregiver Burnout
Caregiver burnout is a term we hear generally when someone is caring for their elderly parent. But the term caregiver burnout suggests so much more. Everyone who is a caregiver reaches caregiver burnout at some capacity, at some point in their journey.
5 years ago, my husband and I adopted our son (who was 8 at the time) from Uganda. Within the first year, we were in the trenches. We. Were. Drowning. Our marriage was on the verge of divorce, and I was spiritually, mentally, and physically exhausted all of the time. I felt drained. Parenting kids from hard places takes every ounce of you, every day. Many well-intentioned friends and family suggested I needed to figure out self-care. I am a 1 on the Enneagram, so finding time for myself is never a priority. I have to take care of everyone else first, which generally means there is little time for myself left at the end of the day. It took me 5 years of parenting a child with trauma to figure out what self-care can look like in each, different season. While being a parent for 5 years isn’t necessarily a long time, it’s felt like a lifetime.
Look, self-care is something that is thrown around so much these days even I give an eye roll when I hear it. I am not going to try to throw out different synonyms to try and rewire your brain to think of it differently, but share my wisdom of our journey and how I learned to better love myself through the lessons of caregiver burnout.
1. Find your village.
This is so important. One of the biggest problems with both men and women when they are in difficult seasons is having no one around them to lean on. When I thought I was going to lose my marriage, I called a friend sobbing. She dropped everything and met me for Margheritas 10 minutes later. She listened to me cry and even paid for my drinks. When my son was having difficulties in the middle of the night, another friend came over at midnight and stayed until the wee hours of the morning, watching and listening to our grief. Only talking when asked questions, but it was her presence that meant so much to us. Find your village. No man is an island. We are designed to do life with others.
2. Find your niche.
Find something that can best support you in your current season. In our first year with our son, I began gardening. I needed something to pound at, while also seeing something bare fruit. Many days, my sweat and tears fell into that lifeless soil. Looking back, the metaphor was therapeutic, too. Maybe nothing else in my life is bearing fruit right now, but damnit, this plant will. Now, every year, we eat the pineapples we planted in that season. It reminds us each year not only of the growth of our family but that good things take time. Gardening was only a season for me, though and I give grace to that. I didn’t give up on it; it suited me in that season. Then it was painting my nails, then walking, then flossing. It changes with my needs and that’s fruitful, which brings me to my next point.
3. Allow yourself grace.
We are not perfect. We are going to mess up. And mess up a lot. There are so many times, looking back, I messed up. I got angry and yelled. Instead of beating myself up and loathing in my shame, I gave myself grace. Yes, I also prayed over my son’s door many nights he wouldn’t remember me yelling but remember my kisses and hugs from that day. But then I crawl into bed, allow my soul to feel the imperfections that carried into that day, and then let it go. It’s not a ‘try harder tomorrow’ but allow for room. That is grace. Forgive yourself for your imperfections. Many nights I lie in bed, thinking about the day. ‘Yes, I messed up. Yes, I was snappy. But I also sat on the floor for an hour with my toddler playing. I also shot hoops with my teenager, laughing and joking around. I tried. I am trying. I am a good mom.’
4. Remind yourself of the good.
We are such a society (this is me 100%; my personality is the worst at this) that constantly looks for the bad. Everyone can always improve. Yes, while this is true, my friend recently reminded me there is freedom in not always looking for growth. Walk in the freedom of, ‘Yes, I mess up, but I’m also a good mom. I am a good _____.’ It’s not selfish or self-absorbed. It’s always stated, count your blessings. Well, count yourself then.
5. Be honest in your needs.
So many people have asked us over the years how they can help and our response has always been this southern, courteous reply, ‘Oh, we are fine. Thanks though.’ We weren’t. We aren’t. Give specifics. If people are asking to help, they want to. Sometimes, the answer is prayer, other times, it’s food. ‘Can you bring a meal? Making dinner lately seems paralyzing.’ ‘Do you mind grabbing us a few things when you go to the store next time?’ Ask for childcare. Have a friend take the kids for the afternoon so you can nap or binge Netflix. This DOES NOT make you a bad parent. Needing a break does not mean you are failing; it actually means you are doing something right. I mean, vacation days are meant to be used, right? It’s not only okay to ask for help, but people want to.
6. Be authentic.
We live in a world today where everyone is supposed to do great. ‘I just finished another cleanse’ or ‘I just finished this new book that says x,y,z.’ It’s not real. Be honest with yourself so you can be honest with others. It’s okay to say I am not okay. It’s okay to feel lost. It’s okay to seek help from others. This year was hard, hard for everyone. I was dealing with postpartum, had family struggles, and it was 2020. I sought medical help. It’s what I needed to help me be the best me for ME and for my family.
7. Remember that comparison is the thief of joy.
Social media, ugh. It’s my favorite. I am able to see friends and their growth, but man, it’s the worst sometimes. I zoom in on people’s houses and see lots of friends going on different trips. I have to remind myself not to compare. We just went on our first family vacation this past month and we have been parents for 5 years. There’s a lot of guilt in that, but I have to remind myself our journey is unique. Adoption is expensive and large, new places were scary for our son for a very long time. It is okay we chose to not go on a vacation for a while. It’s okay to be different and that our story isn’t like other families.
8. Give yourself permission to set boundaries.
This is something that is a constant work in progress for me. I am a people pleaser and a yes person. ‘Sure, I can handle one more thing, I’ll just give up something else,’ but that’s not realistic. It’s taken me a long time to realize saying no isn’t a bad thing, but something to be appreciated. The world we live in is a constant ‘Go-Go’ and busyness is admired. But that’s not sustainable for me or my family. Saying no is actually saying yes to myself, my marriage, my family, and even sometimes my job. I give permission to myself to say yes to the things most important to me.
9. Find your Haven.
My co-founder and I started Haven Retreats back in 2019. We needed a place that offered more than just rest, more than just another vacation. We needed something to help in our marathon journey of parenting kids from hard places. These caregivers need to be fed mind, body, soul, and spirit. As caregivers, all of these areas are neglected. I rarely have a hot meal. I rarely get true rest like I need. Everyone else gets therapy in our house, but I need therapy. I need to work through my parenting triggers and the frustrations and grief in my journey, and I need time with Jesus. I need to be reminded he loves me; that in spite of all my flaws and imperfections, he truly loves me and values my journey.
When we searched for this, there wasn’t anything out there. We couldn’t find our Haven, so we created it. Haven Retreats offers therapeutic retreats for foster and adoptive families. We focus on four pillars and cycle through them multiple times throughout a weekend: good food, good rest, good therapy, and good Jesus. In finding my haven, it allows for hope.
10. Don’t lose hope.
Everything is a season. Don’t get me wrong, life has been tough lately. We have had a lot of setbacks with our son this past year, as I know a lot of people have. But from day one, I never gave up hope. That hope is what drove me to continually pursue my husband and my family to know that things would get better. There’s always hope in tomorrow. And that hope is what allows me to look back and see the progress. Is it slow? Yeah, super slow sometimes. But growth is growth. Progress is progress. Whether it’s one step forward, five steps back, or two steps forward, three steps back. There is hope in our growth. And that alone is self-care.
Because we honor our son’s journey, he has approved of this article. If you are a foster or adoptive family or know of someone who is in need of a retreat, there are many retreats still open and available this year. There will be locations and spots available in New Jersey and Michigan in 2022.
This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Ashley DeClue. You can follow their journey on Instagram. Learn more about Haven Retreats here. Do you have a similar experience? We’d like to hear your important journey. Submit your own story here. Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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Read more touching adoption stories here:
‘The lawyer called, she wanted him back and the papers were already signed. I knew we’d be saying goodbye.’: Couple credits birth mom for saving almost failed adoption, ‘The bond between us made this happen’
‘Would you be willing to adopt a baby girl?’ The day we matched, we saw two blue lines of our own. We were terrified.’: Woman surprised with pregnancy during adoption, becomes first-time mom to 2 newborns
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