The following is a guest post from Sarah Park, co-founder of Pear Budget.
Parenting is a difficult job. It’s hard enough when both parents are present, healthy, and sharing the work. (Single parents know well the challenge of shouldering all the responsibility.) In families accustomed to a shared workload, when one parent gets sick, it wreaks havoc on the entire house. So whether you’re down for the count with a nasty cold or struggling with a long-term disability, it’s crucial to approach this time with extra grace and flexibility.
For the last three years, I’ve suffered from a severe sciatica-type pain. It’s gotten in the way of everything — making it difficult to take care of chores, causing issues in our daily schedule, and adding countless doctors’ appointments to our life.
Thankfully, this chapter of our life is coming to an end, and I wanted to share five things we’ve learned along the way.
1. Rely on the people who care about you.
Maybe you’re like me: I hate imposing on others. I know my loved ones’ lives are busy enough as is. Who am I to ask even more of them?
That’s the wrong question.
The right question is this: Knowing that the people in my life do, actually, care about me, what could they do that would help ease the pain, difficulty, or tension that I’m in?
We need to be better about asking for assistance.
Over the last few years, the families in our church and neighborhood have made us meals, watched our kids, listened when we’ve needed to vent, and even stayed with us overnight in the hospital.
Your friends want to help. Often, they just don’t know what they can do that’ll help the most. Tell them. As crazy as it sounds, they’ll thank you.
2. Write down a family schedule
This is something we should have done long ago. When my back pain started, it wasn’t easy for my husband to know how to help — all the important information was in my brain, not on paper.
By creating a schedule together, three things occurred:
1. We both knew what needed to happen, and when.
2. We were able to balance responsibility. (I could take on certain jobs that could be done from bed, like handling paperwork and paying bills.)
3. We could prioritize. The well parent is likely to feel over-burdened; if one parent has the flu, the other will have extra work — taking care of her normal duties, caring for her spouse, and taking on the sick parent’s responsibilities. This is the time to decide what gets dropped.
3. Investigate flexible worktime
Having a family is a round-the-clock job. If one parent is out of commission, one of the best ways to juggle both bread-winning and family care is to make your work schedule more flexible. Since we’re entering “cold and flu season” now, it’s a good idea to look into your options before one parent catches a bug.
If a stay-at-home parent is sick, can the working parent work from home? Use vacation days? Work different hours? If not, make sure the working parent can easily arrange back-up childcare, whether through neighbors willing to help in a pinch, or from a list of trusted babysitters.
In our own situation, Charlie was able to work more in the early mornings, which meant he had more freedom later in the day to pick the kids up from school, help out around the house, or otherwise “be available” during normal work hours.
4. Be sympathetic to the other parent’s situation
When times are tough, it’s easy to focus on your own frustrations, your own pain, your own loss of freedom. Keep in mind: this is a hard time for both of you.
For the sick parent
You know how challenging your day is, normally. Your duties are now falling on your spouse. Express your gratitude! And try to receive help graciously, even if it might not be done exactly to your liking. (Charlie has “a way” that he likes the dishes to be put in the dishwasher. He’s had to learn to let go of that when I’m in charge of the dishes.)
For the well parent
Remember that being sick is terrible. Your spouse is feeling awful, isn’t getting good rest, and has no real idea when he or she will be well. He’s not trying to sabotage your life (really!). Try to be especially patient and sympathetic.
5. Be sure to make time togetherPhoto by Ada Be
It’s unlikely that you’ll be able to have a date night on the town when one of you is sick. However, it is more important than ever, for your relationship, to take some time together that is unstressed. We find that lying in bed together and watching a movie on the laptop is a perfect way to help us unwind.
Don’t let nurturing your relationship be one of the things that gets axed when you’re prioritizing. Your marriage is the linchpin that holds the family together in sickness and in health.
We’re happy to note that the cause of my pain was recently diagnosed. I had a non-cancerous tumor growing right on my sciatic nerve. Three years and 20+ doctors couldn’t find it, but just before Thanksgiving, a neurosurgeon found it on an MRI, and was able to operate on it. It looks like I’ll have a complete recovery.
And while I wouldn’t wish the last three years of my life on anyone, through it, Charlie and I were able to find new ways to cope, to find new ways to communicate as husband and wife, and to find new ways to work together as parents. And we’ll be able to carry these lessons forward as we serve each other and our girls — hopefully from a place of recovered, stable, long-term health.
What’s been your experience with this? What are your tips for handling the load when one parent is out of commission?