And to this end, I will be sharing my experiences and the lessons learned as a Relative caregiver. Having been one for 31 years.
I call it specialized parenting, cause it is parenting for the second time. And, because we make the choice to become a parent to a child, be it one from our family or that of a friend. We take them in, to include their needs amongst those we are already doing our best to satisfy. It being our wish to keep them with us, and not be sent away into the system. We bring them in most times unaware of the trauma they may have gone thru. We desire to heal, to protect them from harm. At times not knowing how, when our attempts are met with angry uncooperative reactions. We commit our hearts, our energy to the life of this child, in our way promising to be there as a parent for them… for life.
Yes, being a relative caregiver does reward us with great satisfaction. But the joy I speak of, the joy I learned of, is the satisfaction felt at time spent doing what I enjoyed. This is the replenishment of the spirit of “keep on keepin on.” In my experience I have found, if I maintained what gave me joy, I remained alright. For example…
In very year before I got the kids, I had signed up for fall classes at City College. I was going to fulfill my dream of being an entertainer and a fashion stylist. I signed up to take Ballet and Tap, a beginning acting class, and a fashion image consulting class. The classes were to start in September, the children were mine in August.
This is a dilemma, I believe, we all find ourselves in at the time of that decision in some way or other. How do we continue what we are already doing? Follow thru on some future plan we had, such as a vacation, or even retirement. Learning while we do, what we must do to include the needs of the children? Can we do both? And, it’s usually our plans which get sacrificed.
So, it was for me at the time. I soon had to give up my job, too. I laugh at that now. It was to have been my pension job. I had worked mostly part time most of my life and Time had come and I had to decide to get a full time job with a pension which is why I found myself behind the desk at the DMV. Yes, the DMV. That was my income life insurance policy.
Before I got the kids, I had been working there for three years and was in a space, where I had the time to go to school, so off I went to register. Ten days before school started, I became what is called today a relative caregiver. My son and his wife arrested. I had a 5 day old infant, an 11 month infant, a two year old toddler, and an 8 year old.
Oh, of course, at first, someone volunteered to help. That lasted for a week. I was desperate. Without help, I began to question how was I gon do this? Or, what had I got myself into? Could I continue to work? How was I going to manage an income?
Now, without income or support. Family members still in shock, unable to come to my aid. I imagine, while deciding and agreeing to the permanency of kinship parenting, and all that means and comes to mean, those questions have arose for you, too.
I decided I couldn’t do it, meaning continue to work. My office manager was at kind enough to let me take a leave. Even to work some weekends. But as I lived the life I had chosen, I knew I could not do it all. Well there I was without my dream and without a job. What could I do? After my savings were gone, I became a needy payee. I was on welfare. Thank goodness for the foster care check. We managed.
Then, the Grandparents Who Care, entered my life. This was before it was called Kinship. I found support. I learned of ways to work within the system to find the assistance I needed. I was given the encouragement to become an advocate for the children and myself. In the group I found other women doing what I was and who understood, who listened to me and who told me, in my first meeting, when I began to cry, “It’s alright to cry.” “Go on and cry.” Those words are why I am with the kinship program today.
You see, whether it be known, our support group, “Grandparents Who Care” became the national model and it has transformed itself into the Kinship program. Making our needs known and meet was not an easy process. It began as we spoke to lawmakers in Sacramento, urging them to create the necessary legislation which would recognize our need the support as we cared for children, who would have gone into the system.
We spoke to the social services and helped them to define the kind of program and services which would serve our needs. We wanted them to understand we represented another kind of need for support. We wanted to get them to see the role we were playing and how it was affected us. We wanted to show them how by accepting our grandchildren it was also helping them.
Being a member of the group, gave me the courage to move out of my comfort zone. By doing so, I was able to find the opportunities for them. Scholarships to private schools, free summer camps.
The program for Kin taking care of Kin has changed over the years and I’ve been a part of as it changed. What was Grandparents Who Care, has become what is now called Relative Caregivers. No longer just grandmothers, but sisters, brothers, aunts, uncles, cousins, and at time just friends of the family.
This gives me the historical recall to determine what I learned and how I used it to cope. This is my wish to share. The key to remaining strong and resilient is the importance of maintaining self-attention. It’s “the what” I continue to do for myself. The life about me I can maintain.
By that I mean those activities and enjoyments you have always enjoyed, before you became a kinship caregiver. Those you can continue doing in spite of the additional responsibility. Yes, sometimes, as I have found, when we do take that time, someone or something, may go undone, someone may feel neglected. I had to learn how to find a balance between that caregiver I am and the care I give to myself.
There were times I was up to it and there came times I wasn’t. You see being a member of the group, gave me the courage to move out of my comfort zone. Each week I could go to the meeting and hear how others were coping and then share how I was not coping. This group of sisters, was a gift of healing. It kept me strong in my faith… believing in me…”I can do this.”
As, I look back at those times and their consequences, like most of us, I tended to focus on the results with unwanted outcome. This focus left me on my case feeling I was not meeting their needs. Now that they are grown I see I left out those which created confidence and self-awareness within them.
Because I have raised my grandchildren and can look back, if I could have comforted myself in some way, I would have said to myself, “Lois, you can only do want you can do.” And for me not to be on my case, thinking, I was not all I thought I needed to be. I would have said to myself, “Think about what all you are doing and who you are doing it for.” I would have check out their results to evaluate, the outcome and the effects my efforts. To decide which will have my best interests in mind, too. I would have asked myself, “Are you still doing what brings you joy?” “What are you doing to replenish the energy you are giving out?”
I would have paid more attention to how I was managing my personal health and wellbeing. I would have remembered to grieved my lost my lost too. Recognizing the lost I felt too, I would have given myself the space. Living with the consequences of not allowing myself to take the time for myself. As I look back, as I made the decision, I would have insisted, I take into consideration, the reality of my lifestyle, of my health, my financial status and my personal state of mind, when I accepted this challenge. Not that I would have not made the same decision. I would have been more compassionate with myself.
So, the bottom-line lesson, I learned is as I parented my grandchildren… I must remember to take care of me too.
This brings us back to the reason for “Caregiver Speaks.” It acts as a reminder to think of ourselves as we parent. To remember we must not put off doing what maintains our well- being, doing what brings us joy as we care for our family. We need a feeling of personal achievement. A smile inside just for ourselves.