The Gift of Respite

I love my children, but I am absolutely certain that my ability to care for them depends on the ability of others to take my place from time to time.

For those unfamiliar with my column, I’m a mom to four great girls. Caring for neurotypical teens is not without its challenges, but I have chosen to focus my writing primarily on my two younger daughters. Rachel and Janneke are neurodiverse with specific medical needs that create an added layer of complexity to mothering. Juggling their care alongside engineering the home routine keeps me more than sufficiently busy.

Maybe it’s more of an attention span issue than a rest issue, but I know I prefer to keep moving than to rest. I also know that if I do sit to rest, I might like it a lot – and want more of it. Yet rest is a bit of a premium around here. 

I think I can, I think I can

Back in 2006, after the birth of our third, I remember sitting on our couch with four-year-old Emily and two-year-old Sophia while holding infant Rachel – and fitting the feeding tubing, feeding pump on its IV pole and Rachel’s cumbersome casted legs around several picture books, two bowls of Goldfish crackers and two sippy cups. A community nurse was facing me in one of our overstuffed chairs, asking me if I wanted to apply for community respite hours. 

I said I was fine and probably didn’t need the help.

I’m so glad she thought differently. Fourteen years later – and thanks to the recent effects of COVID-19 that reduced our community nursing hours – I am still amazed at how quickly I unravel after two days without nursing support. 

The truth in caregiving

It’s hard to ask for help. It’s hard to know you need help. In a recent Forbes article entitled “COVID-19 Reveals the Caregiving Mystique,” Lindsay Jurist-Rosner writes, “Like the feminine mystique, the caregiver mystique thrives in silence and shame. Family caregivers are socialized to think that caring for aging parents and sick loved ones is a family duty that comes naturally and is filled with love and an abundance of patience.”

I love my children, but I am absolutely certain that my ability to care for them depends on the ability of others to take my place from time to time. Furthermore, stepping back from my children means stepping into a space filled with both fear and trust. I fear what happens when I am not around, and I have to trust the person who is taking my place. That vulnerable rest becomes a valuable gift.

Sabbath rest for each other

I love how John Swinton writes in Becoming Friends of Time, “To offer someone respite is to provide a period of Sabbath rest or relief from a situation or an experience that is difficult or distressing. Respite is a deeply timefull practice. The apostle John informs us that disciples are friends of God and friends with one another (John 15:5). Friends spend time with one another and share one another’s burdens. Friends of the time-full God are called to create Sabbath spaces, to create places of respite, safe havens where those who offer care can find comfort, safety and rest.” 

Growing up as a pastor’s kid, Sunday was the busiest day of the week. I quickly understood why my pastor-dad took Mondays off. When it comes to rest for caregivers, there is no option of taking the day off unless someone else steps in to take the day on. 

Allow the COVID-19 restrictions to stimulate your creative thinking and perhaps this summer, you can live out John 15:5 and offer someone else the gift of Sabbath rest.

  • The Pot family story is about faith and disability as experienced through a life of caregiving for daughters Rachel and Janneke.

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