Ten years ago, Kristine Breese found herself in a situation that turned out to be a wake-up call in more ways than one. At the age of 35, the mother of two went into cardiac arrest at her home in Carlsbad, Calif. And in that moment, Breese's first thought was not what you would expect."I thought ‘Who's going to give the kids dinner?’" she says. She was even thinking about the mac 'n' cheese dinners in the freezer as the paramedics wheeled her to the ambulance.
Thankfully, Breese survived her ordeal, regained her health and today she is a successful writer and public speaker. But one thing she'll never forget is the fact that every mom needs a reliable backup plan to cover those unexpected moments when mom is not available.
Whether it's a result of a surgery, as it was for Breese, or something more common such as a cold or flu, if you need time to rest and recover, make sure your backup plan is in place ahead of time. Check out these strategies and be prepared.
1. Learn to ask for help.
Some moms understandably have trouble asking for help."Moms push it to the limit," says Breese, author of Cereal for Dinner: Strategies, Shortcuts, and Sanity for Moms Battling Illness."When women start feeling bad, they don't cut down on their activities or turn to others. Things can quickly spiral out of control."
Develop the skill of asking for help before you're in a crisis. For example, when someone offers to carry your groceries to the car, let them."You may feel silly at first. We're in that post-feminist generation where we're not supposed to let someone open the door for us, but asking for help doesn't have to be a statement about who you are as a woman," says Breese.
2. Set up a network of helpers.
You need to have a list of people to call when you need assistance. Set up a way to contact everyone quickly and easily. For instance, create an email list or Facebook group specifically for this purpose. Or set up a telephone tree where you call the first person on the list, they call the next person and so on. Think of it as your own personal "Emergency Response System." Then all you have to do is send one message or make one call to say, "Can you help me out and pick up my kids from school this afternoon? I have been flat on my back all day."
3. Ask for specific kinds of help.
Designate people to do specific tasks. For instance, ask a neighbor in advance if she'd be OK to cover carpool duties if you're in a pinch. Ask a girlfriend if she'd be willing to buy some groceries if you just can't manage a trip to the market.
You can even get the kids involved, in an age-appropriate way."Kids really respond when they can help," says Breese, who suggests making a game of it when you need help from younger kids. For instance, give them a "Do Not Disturb" sign to hang on your bedroom door or have them set a timer so they know how long mommy needs to rest.
4. Have a replacement on call.
You need several reliable baby sitters to call on. If you don't have any, try finding someone through a baby-sitting agency such as the Web site Sittercity, or a local church or college. Interview candidates and check references before you need them. Ideally, your baby sitters are familiar with your family and your home, and they have flexible schedules so they're likely to be available in an emergency. If your budget allows, set aside some cash and contacts for extra conveniences like a cleaning service or takeout meals when you really are down for the count.
5. Leave a paper trail.
Before you get sick, pretend you're going on vacation and write down everything a caregiver would need to know while you're away. Include essential phone numbers, information about kids' activities and schedules, medications, allergies, and other relevant details. Ideally, your regular baby sitters already know the drill, but it's good to have written instructions for reference. Keep this information in one place (try the fridge or the kitchen table), and be sure to update it often.
6. Stock your freezer.
While you're healthy, find some freezer-friendly recipes. Double them each time you cook, and freeze half. Or keep some commercially prepared meals on hand that a caregiver could easily pop in the oven or microwave.
7. Have confidence in your family.
Realize that things won't fall apart just because you're not directing the scenes. Sure, dad may not cut the crust off the bread when he packs lunches, and he may send Susie to school without brushing her hair. What's important is that he's getting the kids to school. If you make home-cooked meals but grandma takes the kids out for chicken nuggets, no permanent damage done. It's OK if your kids watch a bit (or even a lot) more TV while you're ill. Just remember the overarching goal: Giving mom a break so you can rest and rejuvenate.