Time to Care: Vignettes of Family Life

Editor’s Note: This story was originally published on Shared Justice, and is part of the Time to Care series.

The stories shared as part of this series have demonstrated that there are difficult seasons in life when the care of family is irreplaceable, and that the work of families during those critical seasons requires time. The truth is, we all have a Time to Care story. This week, we take a brief look into the lives of five families who know the value of family time.

Debbie’s life changed suddenly when her husband, Dennis, suffered a stroke. She recalls seeing him for the first time after surgery, “I was so excited. I [ran] into the hospital and [there] he is . . . a very strong, able-bodied, big-chested man transformed to a withered old man with a blank look on his face.” After Dennis’ stroke, Debbie became his caregiver. “It wasn’t something I thought I would ever have to do. You just think you’re going to grow old together, right?”

The transition from the hospital, to the rehabilitation facility, to home was hard. It was also expensive. “Financially, we had to go in and use all of our 401K. That investment was for our retirement and our future . . . we didn’t intend to use it for hospital bills.” Overwhelming despair and anger were common feelings, as Dennis was completely dependent on Debbie. It became clear to Debbie that in order to care for Dennis and their relationship well, she would have to quit the job she loved. “I was sleeping an hour or two a night, maybe. . . The Lord made it very clear to me that I had gotten my priorities completely out of sync . . . Marriage is supposed to represent what Christ looks like to the church, and I was doing a terrible job of it.”

Over the last eight years, Debbie has remained Dennis’s primary caregiver. They have continued to struggle financially with depleted assets, leaning on Social Security Disability Insurance and part-time work. But in the midst of this care journey, Debbie has also begun a ministry, Beyond Fear to Freedom, to support women like Renee by facilitating authentic, Christ-centered community.

Renee and her daughter are raising her daughter’s four children as they also care for Renee’s disabled father. The cost of childcare for the four children and the instability of her work schedule are so overwhelming that Renee’s daughter works at home full-time, caring for the children, cooking and cleaning the house. The entire family depends on Renee’s income from working at a fast food restaurant. “I work full time and do all the errands such as grocery shopping, doing laundry and taking the kids, my father and my daughter to any appointments.”  Renee laments, “There is always something that needs to be done. It is exhausting.” Like all of us, sometimes she needs a break—a day to rest—but Renee’s work does not have paid time off benefits. “It would be so helpful if I had paid time off because I do need a break sometimes, but I can’t afford to take time off.”

Jasmine was 16—a junior in high school—when she became pregnant. She was struggling to find a job and wanted to give up when a friend told her about an organization that might be able to help. New Moms is a nonprofit in Chicago that exists to interrupt the cycle of poverty and create strong families. Their mission is to share the love of God by surrounding young moms and their children with everything they need to transform their lives. When she learned about the organization, Jasmine promised herself and her then-3-year-old son, “I would try, no matter what.” With that determination, Jasmine joined the New Moms job training program and got-on-the-job experience through their social enterprise, Bright Endeavors. As she gained experience and received support from the organization, Jasmine saw potential in herself that she had never seen before. For the first time, a career felt possible.

“I went back to school and moved into my first apartment. I was fulfilling my promise. I got my driver’s license and purchased my first vehicle.” For the first time in a long time, she felt hopeful about her future. She knew she was capable of achieving her goals and overcoming obstacles. Today, Jasmine works for New Moms as a Family Support Specialist and Home Visitor. In her role, she works hands-on with families who are going through struggles she went through herself, giving them the hope and support that transformed her life.

Alicia, mother of three, is a daycare teacher. She gave birth to her third child by cesarean delivery, but was told her job would only be held for two weeks. She wanted more time than that to recover from the birth, bond with her new son and help her family adjust. Instead, she had two weeks with the compromise that her newborn son would receive free childcare at the facility. It was the only affordable child care available to her family, and at least her new son would be nearby. So Alicia reluctantly returned to work, still recovering from the delivery, with her newborn son in tow. However, her infant contracted respiratory syncytial virus infection (RSV), to which very young infants—especially those six months and younger—are susceptible. The infection resulted in her infant son being taken to the emergency room and hospitalized in the NICU for a week. Now one year old, her son continues to have respiratory issues as a result of the infection, and Alicia laments both the time that was taken from her and the damage it did to her son’s health.

Linnea is a caregiver in multiple capacities. She is a single parent to her two children. Her eldest has mild cerebral palsy, hypertrophic cardiomyopathy and growth hormone deficiency. Her youngest struggles with schizoaffective disorder. Linnea is a kinship caregiver to her two grandchildren off and on as needed, and currently has partial custody of one of her grandchildren. Finally, she is her mother’s primary caregiver. Linnea shares, “I had about three weeks of an ‘empty nest’ two years ago between my son moving out and my mom needing help.” On top of her many caregiving roles within her family, she also works as a special education preschool aide. “I have worked a split shift for the last 13 years—8:30 am to 11 am and 1 pm to 4:30 pm. . . Trying to fit in appointments has been a nightmare.”

When reflecting on her multiple experiences as a caregiver, Linnea says, “I feel physically, emotionally, and mentally overwhelmed. . . I haven’t had a vacation of more than a few days since before my kids (now in their thirties) were born. It is financially and logistically impossible for me.”

We all know what it feels like to be pressed for time, wishing for a little more time to rest, time to play and time to care. Although the steps necessary to transform work culture and support family time are neither simple nor straightforward, this is a shared challenge that requires a shared response. For our final installment, we will be sharing a brand new resource from Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, that will help you advocate for family-supportive policies in your workplace and community.

Time to Care was the beginning of a conversation and journey. Join us as we pursue time to care for every family.

Chelsea Maxwell is the Program Associate of Families Valued, an initiative of the Center for Public Justice, and the contributing editor of Time to Care.

Chelsea Maxwell