Photo: Nikoline Arns on Unsplash

Being a parent is one of the most demanding jobs out there, but being a caregiver on top of it all can be completely overwhelming. You might feel like you’re drowning in responsibilities and have almost no time to meet your own needs.

The good news is, you’re not alone. Over 65 million people in America serve as caregivers in some way, shape or form. Whether you have a child with special needs, or are caring for an aging parent, there are resources available to help you. Let’s take a look at some of those resources, and some helpful tips for how to balance your time.

1. Hold family meetings

One way to find a healthy balance as a parent/caregiver is to hold regular family meetings. Your family needs to know that they are just as important as the person you are taking care of. Meeting together gives everyone an opportunity to share how they’re feeling and provide input.

Try to create an open environment where everyone feels comfortable sharing. You can also use this time to provide updates on any changes to your family member’s medical care or daily routine. These meetings don’t have to be super formal, but choosing a set day of the week or month can be helpful in managing expectations.

2. Ask for help

If there’s one universal truth about being a caregiver, it’s that no one can do it alone. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to ask for help. Help can take many forms and will look different for everyone, depending on your circumstances.

You might have the funds to hire a nanny to watch your kids part-time or pay a professional to take care of your loved one while you run errands. If you’re on a tight budget, ask family members for help or try trading babysitting hours with a neighbor.

There are also a myriad of resources available to caregivers depending on the illness or disability of your loved one. For example, the Alzheimer’s Association operates a 24/7 help line, and the National Alliance for Caregiving offers free guidebooks. Even Facebook groups can provide some relief from like-minded people.

Be sure to take advantage of community programs for your children as well. Many after-school programs offer financial aid, and organizations like 4-H or the YMCA can be extremely helpful.

3. Keep track of finances

Chances are, the person you’re taking care of has funds available to help ease the financial burden of being a caregiver. However, your time and money will be stretched thin, especially as a parent. Create a budget and stick to it, and save as much as you can. You never know when a medical emergency will arise.

If your children are school-age, look into getting financial assistance from the school lunch program. Some Title 1 school districts even offer meals during the summer to help out low-income families.

There are also a few options you may be able to take advantage of such as long-term care insurance and community outreach programs dedicated to helping caregivers.

4. Update medical coverage

Enrolling in Medicare (for those over 65 or on disability) can be tricky, which is why you should review your loved one’s policies. Make sure to update their policy during the annual open enrollment period or when any changes arise, and avoid penalties for late enrollment.

Your loved one may also be eligible for Medicaid—government subsidized healthcare—so be sure to find out the specifics of your state’s coverage and apply.

5. Take care of your mental health

Depression is a common side-effect of becoming a caregiver, which is why you should make your mental health a priority. Here are just a few ways to combat feeling depressed and overwhelmed with your circumstances:

  • Find ways to stay active

Chasing after toddlers is a workout on its own, but doing some additional cardio throughout the week will give you endorphins and build your stamina. Go on walks with your loved one if they’re able to leave the house and get your children involved. Yoga is another great activity for caregivers because it increases flexibility and relieves stress.

  • Eat a balanced diet

As any parent knows, this can be extremely difficult when time is scarce. If you have room in your budget, try a food subscription service like Hello Fresh or Blue Apron to take the stress of meal planning off your shoulders. Otherwise, be sure to work fruits and vegetables into your family’s daily routine wherever you can.

  • Get outside

Vitamin D is one of the best ways to fight off depression so take advantage of any opportunity to get outside, like checking the mail or walking the kids to the bus stop—just be sure to wear sunblock. For cloudy climates and winter months look into buying a happy light to keep indoors.

  • Take time for yourself

This advice probably sounds the least achievable, but carving even a few minutes out of each day for yourself can work wonders for your mental health. Read a page from a fun book, write in your journal, meditate or take a hot bath after the kids have gone to bed. Whatever you choose to do, make sure it’s something you enjoy.

  • See a therapist

If you do start to feel depressed, see a therapist right away. Therapy often carries a negative stigma in our culture, but there’s no reason to feel embarrassed about seeking help from a professional. If you had a broken leg, you would see a doctor to get it fixed. Mental health is just as important.

If you’re still feeling overwhelmed after reading this, don’t worry. With time, you’ll fall into a rhythm that works for your family. Just remember to seek help from friends, family, professionals, and organizations specific to your situation. Finding balance as a parent and a caregiver can be difficult, but it is possible.