The common definition of respite sucks, no matter whether you’re the carer or the cared-for:
a short period of rest or relief from something difficult or unpleasant
Olivia started a two-night respite at Stars for Life today: she left home this morning at 9:45 a.m. and won’t return until I pick her up, 48 hours later, on Saturday morning.
Technically I’m on a respite “from her,” but you could equally say she’s on a respite “from me.” Either way, I don’t think we regard each other as difficult or unpleasant; certainly from my side, I love her dearly, and being her father is a source of great joy.
But, boy oh boy, do I need a short period of rest or relief from time to time.
Parenting, plus grieving, plus working, plus trying to chart a course forward for myself, that all adds up to more time than there is, leaving precious little room for what my friend Mitch calls “unstructured fun time.” Respite time provides a small dose of that, time where I can be the star of my own show for 24 or 48 hours, not simply a member of the supporting cast.
For me the great joy of respite is as much the relief from the punctuation of the clock: it’s 4:30 p.m. as I write this, and simply not having to worry about family supper is about The Greatest Thing in the World right now, followed quickly by the endless panorama of freedom offered by an unencumbered evening. And I get to do it all again tomorrow.
These brief relief periods—Olivia is funded by AccessAbility Support for two nights a month—make me a better parent, and a better person. I’m enormously grateful for them, and I’m enormously grateful to Olivia for having the courage to adventure into her part of the deal.
My own experience, and observing others, suggests that many carers regard respite as self-indulgent, and are reluctant to seek it out, or take it when offered.
There’s a complex thicket of reasons for this including the seeming-necessary conceit that if caring is genuine we should be strong enough to power through without breaks; otherwise the “difficult and unpleasant” rears its head, and who wants to make the cared-for feel that they’re a burden to be briefly unshackled from.
We would be well-served by getting over this, and by raising respite to a level of personal responsibility, recognizing that it is a disservice to those we love and care for to not take care of ourselves.