Young families quickly discover the value of having family and trusted friends close by when it comes to caring for their child(ren). Whether it is an initial period to avoid daycare or for occasional date nights, parents need relief and children need to learn to be away from their parents.
We were blessed to live near both of our families when our boys were little. Happy memories were made, for all of us, as they spent time with their Granny & Granddaddy and Mamaw & Papaw. We are so very thankful for those times! And certainly appreciate the invaluable investment of time in their lives.
As Jacob got older, we needed to secure sitters for him whenever we wanted to go out to eat, to a movie, a concert, etc. Hiring a sitter made sense as we didn’t want to burden family. (They NEVER acted like keeping Jacob was a burden but I knew we couldn’t always rely on family.) Also, I didn’t want to take advantage of his brother as a built-in sitter. However, when he was a teenager, he agreed to watch Jacob in exchange for cash (our offer, not his request) so it was a win/win for him and for us. That wasn’t a weekly occurrence but did allow us to participate in a Supper Club with friends. Other family members pitched in from time to time, allowing us simple freedom. We also had dear friends who willingly stayed in our home to give us a break. And then, there were often events that only one of us would attend because we didn’t have anyone to stay with Jacob. Taking him would have caused much distress for him and everyone around us. I hear this very thing over and over again from other parents in similar situations. Having a child with severe disabilities means life-long help and it can be exhausting and over-whelming.
No parent feels comfortable or should even consider leaving their kids with someone they don’t know or haven’t gotten solid references. When Jacob turned 21 we were able to connect with a sitter service. After an initial evaluation/consultation to determine our needs, a sitter, that was employed by the company, was sent to our home to stay with Jacob. Our lives changed dramatically at that point. It was fantastic to be able to line up sitters for us to do whatever we wanted to do. It might be just to go to work and not have to get Jacob dressed and out the door. It might be a date night. It might be a weekend get-away. Through this service, we’ve had some sitters for over 10 years that we trust completely. Sitters that Jacob is happy to see and happy for us to leave! On the other hand, we have had sitters that after one visit, I had to ask for them not to return. That’s okay as it is a process finding a good fit. There have still been times when there isn’t a sitter available. Not a huge deal and we make the best of it.
I cannot leave out one long-term sitter Jacob has had for over 25 years. She is a blessing to us and considers Jacob ‘her boy’. She has spent many weekends with him and helping out more times than I could possibly count. He loves it when she is here because she pretty much waits on him hand and foot. Nothing but room service with a smile for her boy! Practically breakfast in bed! (Against my wishes, but, we need her and I think she needs us.) To have someone in Jacob’s life who ‘gets’ him and loves him deeply, like her own, fosters an eternal, grateful heart.
If you are a family with special needs, I’d encourage you to check into what is available in your area. Using a sitter service means they vet the applicant, do a background check, know their strengths and weaknesses. I totally understand that it is hard to drive away from home leaving your son or daughter with a person that isn’t family. Especially when it involves your vulnerable child. But, do your homework and get started finding someone to provide respite care. It is a lifeline you may not know you need.
Not one of Jacob’s sitters has ever shown up at the door, taken a bow, and said, “at your service”. And yet, the ones that have been in our lives for years now, have that very attitude every time they are in our home. They are ready and willing to help out and literally do whatever it takes. In an emergency, I know I can call on them. Their mission is for Jacob to have a good day and us to have enjoyable time away. They are not family but I count them as such. I consider them a godsend with all sincerity. And I thank the Lord for giving them a heart of service.
Godsend definition, an unexpected thing or event that is particularly welcome and timely, as if sent by God. Urban Dictionary: When a situation is tense and unexpectantly something or someone arrives that completely eases the situation. In other words, a life-saver.
Over the last year alone, Mike and I have been able to enjoy several 4-day vacations because we had sitters we could count on watching our son. That, my friends, is an invaluable gift, a godsend, that I do not take for granted.