After more than 16 years working in Corporate America, I chose to leave the hustle and bustle behind to care for my chronically ill son. I wish the choice were strictly mine, but the truth was I had to choose between my career and my child. His health was declining and he needed me at home. Over the past two years of being his full-time caregiver, I have learned there is a vast difference between being a working mom and being a caregiver and stay at home mom to a medically fragile child. I had this dream that my son and I would do projects, paint, and craft our days away. In reality, I found myself stretched thin with little time to engage with him as a mother. There are so many things I would do different, do over, or maybe tweak if I could go back in time. Making the transition from full-time employee to a caregiver is not easy but here are some tips to help you along the way.
Productivity Does Not Make you the Best Stay at Home Parent
When I started my journey as a stay-at-home Mom, I remember being excited to clean the house. I would jump out of bed every morning, make all of our beds, put a load of laundry in the wash, and run downstairs to make breakfast. In those early weeks, I made cookies, cleaned and organized every inch of the house, and told myself I had to be productive if I wasn’t working. I had spent my entire adult life driven my metrics, quotas, and hitting those parameters to gain incentives, raises, and bonuses in my career. My pep and drive were always motivated by being the best, having the best, and looking my best. I took that same zest to becoming my son’s caregiver.
Unfortunately, I realized very quickly that in my drive to have the cleanest house, my checklist and to-dos complete, and to be the BEST stay at home mom ever lead to severe physical and mental fatigue. Not only did I feel exhausted, but my energy was also entirely focused on my home, that I was neglecting the time I could be spending playing with my son. I wish I would have realized in those early days that it didn’t matter if my house was clean. I wish I would have spent more time getting messy and making memories with my son. Unfortunately, I had to make a few mistakes and break up with the Corporate person I had become.
Asking for Help Doesn’t Make You a Bad Parent
When I left my job, I had been working full time, and we always had either had a nanny or a nurse in our home helping with my son. I had never managed all of his care by myself, and the complexity of his diseases was always far too overwhelming to do on my own. However, I decided when I left my job that I was going to do EVERYTHING by myself. I have no idea why this idea seemed like a good idea. I had this thought that if I weren’t working, I would have the mental energy and time to do everything I needed to care for his needs and be a great mom. My rationalization for all of this was that my job was 40 hours a week, and that was what had prevented me from being everything to my son. As I walked into those early days, I found myself overwhelmed, overloaded, and burned out trying to do it all. My job was not just being his mom, but I had to manage his medical appointments, therapy, medication refills, paperwork for the state, and take care of his health that was at the time declining.
At night I would be physically drained, but my head would spin because I’d feel guilty about that I didn’t complete my checklist for the day. Many times I would feel like a failure that I couldn’t do everything I needed to do. As I look back on those early days, I realize how naive I thought I could be all things to my child. There is no way for any parent to be a nurse, social worker, therapist, pharmacist, administrative assistant, teacher, personal care assistant and parent to their child. When I made the realization that I could no longer do everything for him, I took the steps I needed to get my son and me the support we needed. That meant that I had to work on getting him home care nursing so I could have a break and just be his mom. Not having to spend all my time managing his health issues freed up space in my day to be his mother. I also realized I’m a better parent when I have help – not when I’m the parent trying to prove to the world I can do it all.
A Paycheck Doesn’t Equal Your Worth as a Human
I’ll admit I was sucked into making good money during my corporate days. I loved thinking about how much I made, what I could buy, and the life it allowed me to lead. My value and self-esteem as a person were wrapped up in the dollar amount I brought home each year. As I watched my paycheck grow so did my ego and my obsession with having beautiful things. I remember not even flinching buying $200 Jeans or a $500 handbag. These were status symbols to me. Leaving that paycheck behind was an enormous hit to my self-esteem. I remember having to sit down and carefully budgeting our finances every single month to the dollar. My self-identity could no longer be about having the best things. Without those items, I wasn’t sure who I was as a person. I went more than a year without buying new clothes or new items for myself. Every dollar had to be carefully counted in our lives.
I learned that my priorities had been tied up in all the wrong places. Life is very short, and money is only paper you use to buy items you need. What I thought I needed, and what I need is very different. I had lied to myself that my worth was tied in my possessions. All of our worths are far more than the money we make. We make our marks in life by the choices we make, the values we hold, the contributions we make to others, and the memories we make with our friends and families. Memories are free of expenses. There are no costs for hugs, kisses, and snuggles with your child. I found my value and worth of being a good mom, a loving wife, a good friend, and in finding ways to volunteer in my community. When I was able to shed my attachment to money, my entire world was opened to the possibility of living without needless possessions and living with incredible memories.
Being a Parent is Our Most Important Job
The transition from Full-Time employment to full-time mom and caregiver was not without many bumps and bruises. However, the most important thing I learned that what I thought about life before altered dramatically when I became his primary caretaker. I learned that productivity doesn’t mean I am the best mom. My best as a mom is when I stop to enjoy the little moments with my son.
To manage his extensive needs, I need help to be the best that I can be for him. No parent can be everything to their child, and finding resources to ease that stress is critical for their mental well-being. Stepping away from a hefty paycheck didn’t diminish my worth as a person. I found my worth was falsely secured in material possessions that gave me little joy. Now that I’ve been able to learn to manage our finances and live more modestly, I have found my real worth is the person I am in my heart. The most important job I have as a human at this point is being a mom to my son. Just remember we don’t have to be the BEST parent, do everything or have everything. Memories are always free and worth more in the long run.