Six Ways to Care for Caregiving FamiliesI first learned about Jolene Philo when I was managing the physical and mental health care of our adopted son during his tumultuous teen years. He was in and out of psych wards after multiple suicide attempts and I was exhausted. Jolene’s resources brought hope and help to my weary soul.

Jolene is both a parent and daughter of loved ones with special needs and disabilities, as well as a former educator who worked with children for 25 years. She’s written several books about caregiving, special needs parenting, and childhood PTSD, including the recently released Sharing Love Abundantly in Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she co-authored with Dr. Gary Chapman. She speaks internationally about caregiving and parenting children with special needs and blogs at Jolene and her husband live in central Iowa.

If you know someone who is a caregiver, Jolene has provided some specific ways you can help and encourage them in this timely guest post!


photo of Jolene PhiloConnecting with caregiving families is a challenge in the best of times. In this season of social distancing, connecting with families caring for children, spouses, or aging parents may feel impossible. But I can assure you–as someone who grew up with disabled father in the 1960s, kept a medically-fragile baby alive in the 1980s, and who is overseeing the care of a 91-year-old parent in 2020–that connecting with caregivers and their families is possible.

These six ideas, inspired by the social distancing caused by the coronavirus, show that a mix of creativity and persistence can make connecting with caregiving families fun!

#1: Text, call, and FaceTime

Hearing from friends and families means the world to caregiving families. Texting is easiest, but also the furthest from face-to-face communication. A phone call takes time, but it’s so worth it to hear the voice of a living, breathing person. FaceTime may require some advance scheduling, but the caregivers you know will be delighted to hear your voice and see your face. An extra plus: not one of these 3 methods require 20 seconds of COVID-19 hand washing.

#2: Provide a meal

Call and offer to cook a meal or pick up carry out from a caregiver’s favorite restaurant. If you have more time than money, use the first option. If you have more money than time and want to support a local restaurant hit hard by coronavirus restrictions, use the second. In either case, check with the family about food restrictions or allergies before cooking or ordering. You and they will be glad you did.

#3: Pass along resources and ideas

This may be especially helpful if you’re connecting with caregiving families who have kids at home due to school closures. Caregiving duties don’t leave these parents much time to hunt for resources. Via text, email, or social media you can share what you’ve found. Links to virtual museum toursonline art classes, and simple movement games can keep kids learning and occupied until schools open again.

#4: Send a surprise

The surprise can be as simple as a code for a free Red Box movie or as elaborate as a box of art supplies or dress up costumes.How about sending board games, jigsaw puzzles, or books? Tailor the surprise to the ages and interests of kids and adults in the family. This idea has a triple whammy effect. First, their hearts will be warmed knowing you are thinking of them. Second, there will be great delight and wonder while opening the surprise. Third, the surprise will provide hours of entertainment and fun.

#5: Share

When you hoard toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and other supplies you are creating scarcity that can seriously impact the health of caregiving families. They needed these supplies to keep loved ones alive before the coronavirus arrived, and they need them now. If you’ve got a 3 or 6 or 12 month stockpile of what caregivers may need, call and ask if you can bring some to them. You’ll still have plenty for your family, and you’ll be able to sleep guilt-free at night.

#6: Wash your hands

Wash your hands before you go out and as soon as you come home whatever your errand may be. Wash them before you cook a meal or pick up carry out for a caregiving family. Wash them before you pack and mail a surprise. Wash them before you drop off some of the toilet paper and hand sanitizer you’re sharing. If, when you drop off that meal or toilet paper, you are handed a disinfectant wipe and asked to wash your hands and wipe down whatever you’re dropping off, just do it. To help you refrain from rolling your eyes or making snarky comments, think of what you want others to do for your loved ones who have a higher risk for contracting COVID-19.

Thanks to the coronavirus, what it takes to connect with caregiving families is now the norm in much of our society. So let’s take what we’re learning about how to do relationships in the context of social distancing and make connecting with caregiving families a habit now and when life goes back to normal!

What about you? Would you add anything to this list?

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