Respite for parents to take care of themselves

02 June 2023

Respite for parents to take care of themselves

Thanks to respite services, caregivers can take time for themselves and catch their breath. Whether occasional, regular or even extended, respite is an invaluable service for preventing exhaustion.


Marjolaine Gamache is General Manager of the Montérégie-based Maison de répit l'Intermède. We sit down with her to talk about the respite services available to parents of children with intellectual disabilities or autism spectrum disorders.

Can you tell us a bit about Maison de répit l’Intermède?

We offer respite services to families living with a person with an intellectual disability or autism spectrum disorder. Our main objective is to offer respite to the family caregiver by welcoming their child, even if they are an adult, to our centre, or less frequently by coming to their home.

Summer is on its way! How do you support families during this season?

It's our busiest time of year! We offer summer services 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. These are the same services as the rest of the year, with the addition of nights from Sunday to Wednesday. At this time of year, many of our participants come in day-camp format, from Monday to Friday.

Can you tell us what respite is, in your own words?

It allows parents to take care of themselves, to rest, to enjoy time for themselves, their relationship and their other children. They rest while their child is in a place of trust, developing and flourishing. Respite means not having a burden on my shoulders; when my youngster is at l'Intermède, I don't spend my time worrying that I'll be called in because they won't eat this food or that food, or because they're disorganized. Respite means peace of mind, the freedom to live life as a parent without having to worry.

Is there a specific type of respite for autism spectrum disorders or intellectual disabilities?

These parents will have a child for 50 years. L'Intermède is one of the only respite homes to welcome people of all ages, from diagnosis until they leave their families for placement. Some have been coming to L'Intermède... for 35 years!

Our aim is to prevent caregivers from becoming exhausted, and to look after their mental health. The Maison de répit l'Intermède hopes to delay the child's placement as long as possible. They often do better in their natural environment than in a rehabilitation center or foster home.

What is the attitude of parents when they start using your services?

There are two profiles. First, there's the completely exhausted parent who's waited until the very last moment to ask for help, and is prepared to accept even the slightest assistance in order to get some rest. Then there's the parent who's been told by school or friends that respite care might be a good idea. He or she calls us, perhaps with a bit of uncertainty. In this case, we have more to do to build a bond of trust. At first, parents are worried. They call often, drop by L'Intermède and... find that everything's fine! Then they relax and really enjoy the respite services.

Do you notice any changes over time in the way people benefit from respite services?

Yes! When caregivers realize that their child is having fun here, that they're happy to come to our premises to see their friends, parents realize that respite is also beneficial for them. At first, they bring their child here... so that they have time to go grocery shopping! Then, as time goes by, they call upon us more and more often for longer periods, and feel less and less guilty about it. So, they may embark on a romantic weekend away or an outing to the movies with friends. They start taking care of themselves for real! When the parent returns to pick up their child from the Maison de répit, there are some very, very beautiful bonding moments.

What can respite do for those being cared for?

First, there's the socialization aspect. Secondly, leaving the family environment enables them to work on their ability to adapt: different meals, different people, different routines, different schedules. And last but not least, we offer lots of leisure and entertainment activities, as well as outings in the community: we're working on community inclusion, acceptance and destigmatization. People in the surrounding towns know us well!

Do the parents in contact with you consider themselves to be caregivers?

No, they don't introduce themselves to us as such; the term "caregiver" is not used by the parents who contact us. That's why, in our mission statement, we talk about "natural families." If we spoke of "caregiver services," they wouldn't feel involved. They often tell us, "I'm doing what I'm supposed to do as a parent!" We explain to them that it's not a parent's job to have to bathe their 25-year-old child; it's more like a caregiver's job! It's not easy to admit that you need time to yourself while your child is elsewhere. Some families send their child to l'Intermède for very short or infrequent breaks; they feel embarrassed and ashamed to ask for help. Yet they deserve so much respite!

What are the plans for the future?

Maison de répit l'Intermède recently celebrated its 35th anniversary. Today, there are some new features: daytime respite services on Mondays and Thursdays, after-school care and, thanks to l’Appui pour les proches aidants, respite on premises outside the Maison. We're trying new things without putting up barriers. Offering respite, yes, but offering respite in different ways. And I'll let you in on the scoop: we've just bought a new, larger building in St-Basile-le-Grand. We're planning to move.

Personally and professionally, can you describe how you feel about being the director of an organization offering respite services?

Parents are so grateful! Respite makes a real difference to their lives, their mental health and family relationships. As for the people helped, they come here with a big smile on their face. It’s so rewarding! I fall in love with them, they’re so endearing, all different and each with their own particularities. I couldn’t dream of anything better to do.

Services dedicated to caregivers of children and adults under 65 are provided by 150 local and regional organizations across Quebec, funded by l’Appui pour les proches aidants. The Maison de répit l’Intermède is one of them. Thanks to Marjolaine Gamache for this insightful conversation, and to Chantale Tremblay, Montérégie Regional Development Advisor at l’Appui, for her invaluable assistance.

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Photo : © Intermède


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