"Eldercare is the new child care." This Globe and Mail headline on 2017 expresses the hard reality of working adult children as they try to balance their care of ageing parents with the demands of the workplace. As sheer numbers of seniors and their life expectancies increase, there is an urgent need to support and help the family members who are providing needed care to loved ones. Fortunately, there are many effective strategies that adult children can utilize themselves to help them successfully manage the added stress of caring for parents. It is a win-win all around, leaving them with skills that will enrich the rest of their lives.
In 2017, many parents are working outside the home and there are more single-parent Canadian households than ever before (Global News, Canadian Census). The marvels of modern medicine have catapulted longevity beyond 80 (Stats Canada) and between 2001 and 2016 the percentage of households in Canada accommodating three generations grew by a whopping 37.5 percent (Global News, Canadian Census). This has created a perfect storm where more care for longer-living parents is needed from adult children who are increasingly less able to provide it due to heavier demands in their personal lives.
Unfortunately, our social support systems have not kept up with the rapid pace of medical science and the changing family unit. Plus, the ideology behind many existing programs increasingly advocates for elders staying in their homes for as long as possible. That means the burden of care for ageing parents is increasingly falling into the laps of adult working children.
True to their culturally defined roles, more women than men are taking on this role. "False choice of working daughters: Career or caregiving" (USA Today), aptly describes the enormity of this new role for working adult daughters: "Caregiving is stressful enough under good circumstances. The responsibility of helping someone through ageing, illness and end of life is tremendous. Caregiving while worrying about your job and financial security can feel unbearable."
In his life-changing book, When the Body Says No, renowned author, and psychiatrist Dr.
Gabor Mate gives us all permission to make our own self-care a priority. Mate warns of the dire consequences to our own health when we put other people's well-being before our own: "When we have been prevented from learning how to say no, our bodies may end up saying it for us." Extrapolating his wisdom to daughters dealing with the significant stress of working plus caregiving, the rule of thumb is to learn to say 'no.' It is okay to say that you are tired and cannot cook mom's meal tonight and that you are too exhausted to give her a bath; It is okay to ask others to take over and help when you are 'done.'
Putting self-care at the top of their 'to-do list' will probably do more to help women cope with the demands of work and caregiving than anything else. This could include getting a break from caregiving by arranging for a spouse, a friend, or a sibling to take over your caregiving duties for a while or getting respite help from a local seniors' health centre. Taking a 'mental health day' away from work and parents may be the best medicine - to unwind, relax, meet friends for coffee, read a good book, indulge in a day at the spa or take a long walk along a lakeshore. More permanent support may involve asking a spouse or sibling to share the caregiving duties on a regular basis, or asking a friend to visit your parent and spend time with them.
Feeling alone and isolated will exacerbate the stress of caregiving while juggling work demands. It is helpful to join supportive caregiving networks and family groups dealing with the care of ageing parents. Talking to friends or seeing a counsellor are all invaluable ways to 'let off steam' when all the demands seem unbearable. It could be very helpful to talk to colleagues and form a support group of other workers taking care of elderly parents. Minimize gas costs with ride-sharing. Many workplaces also offer psychological services for employees.
If it just all seems too much, this could be the opportune time to consider hiring a professional service such as Home Instead Senior Care to give the same compassionate care to your parent that they are accustomed to from their loving daughter.
In a survey by Home Instead Inc., 65 percent of caregivers for older adults reported that this second 'job' was putting a strain on their career (CaregiverStress.com). The demands of taking on the extra workload of caring for a parent can have serious negative repercussions to a woman's ability to perform her day job: "Working daughters often find they need to switch to a less demanding job, take time off, or quit work altogether to make time for their caregiving duties. As a result, they suffer the loss of wages and risk losing job-related benefits such as health insurance, retirement savings, and Social Security benefits" (The Atlantic, 2016). According to a national USA study in "Women and Caregiving" from the Family Caregiver Alliance, the added demands of caregiving had a negative impact on women's careers: "33 percent of working women decreased their work hours and 29 percent passed up a job promotion, training or assignment." This also translates to fewer contributions to pensions, leaving many older women with less money to retire on than their non-caregiving counterparts.
Many extra costs involved in caregiving present another challenge - gas for travelling time, medical supplies, and prescription medications. Mom or Dad may need help to afford expensive hearing aids, eyeglasses, or dental work. Because it is important to maintain a good quality of life for your loved one, it may be necessary to pay for leisure activities such as going to movies and concerts and eating out. If a daughter is already suffering from a hit to their paycheck, these extra expenses may be impossible to absorb: "Women who are family caregivers are 2.5 times more likely to than non-caregivers to live in poverty" (www.caregiver.org). Unfortunately, the financial costs of caregiving are hardest to bear for women on low incomes, who are disproportionately impacted: "One study concluded that the caregiving time burden falls most heavily on lower-income women" (www.caregiver.org). There are creative solutions to minimize the costs of caregiving: subsidized meal and bath programs; respite programs; low-cost daycare classes and programs for elders; seniors' social events at local recreation centres; volunteer rides to medical appointments; income tax deductions; taxi-saver programs and HandiDart transportation service for seniors with disabilities.
But that is enough of the bad news! There is a myriad of ways that a woman can take care of herself to mitigate the stress from her work and caregiver roles. Some stress-busting and happiness-inducing activities could be yoga, meditation, finding strength in a spiritual faith, creative expression, exercise classes, hiking, and women's wellness groups. CaregiverStress.com, a very helpful resource for loving daughters from Home Instead Senior Care, takes the focus off the negative and emphasizes the golden dividends of caregiving: "Being a caregiver is one of the most important and personally rewarding roles a person will play in their lifetime." Women soon discover that their lives have a new sense of meaning and purpose. Everyone knows that when we give to others, it comes back ten-fold in good feelings about ourselves. Nothing in a day job comes close to the profound satisfaction we derive from building a powerful bond with another human being.
Via CaregiverStress.com, their practical and informative resource, Home Instead Senior Care offers valuable tips on how daughters can empower themselves in the workplace, so they can maximize their workplace success amidst the extra demands of caregiving. Being grounded in reality is the first major step. Nobody can leap tall buildings, but a woman can honestly assess her own capacity and the time and energy needed to do well at her job, take care of Mom, and stay healthy. The goal is to set her own realistic limits and not feel guilty if she cannot exceed them. Simple but powerful, getting enough sleep at night helps people work better and longer. Getting enough nighttime rest boosts mental health and feelings of confidence and efficacy in dealing with challenges. Increasing organizational skills will help anyone to stay on top of a busy calendar. This could include carefully planning work demands, family time and caregiving visits weeks in advance.
If the challenge of balancing work and caregiving is too overwhelming, it may be time to seek solutions through a respectful dialogue with the employer. Home Instead Senior Care and CaregiverStress.com offer valuable suggestions for working daughters. Being honest from the start is probably the best way to avoid problems later. But how can that be done without jeopardizing your job? It is always smart to have a strategy in place before talking with the boss; Go into the meeting already armed with a plan for getting all the workplace tasks done and still having time for caregiving. Being innovative and creative could just save the day! Offer 'outside-the-box' solutions that will make life easier for you and your employer. Is it possible for you and a colleague experiencing the same caregiving challenges to cover each other? Perhaps do some work at home and/or via teleconference? Is your employer willing to consider flexible hours to accommodate the time with your parent? Can you make up for lost time by working after hours or on weekends? You do not want to come across as whining or wasting your boss's time with frivolous concerns. So be armed with the facts and take this opportunity to educate your employer and other staff about your caregiving role because they may not understand the extent or seriousness of this challenge. For example, if your loved one has dementia, describe the specific symptoms of the disease and the demands that it puts on you, as a caregiver. This could result in a new respect and admiration of your strengths and abilities by the employer and colleagues, making them more willing to help in any way they can.
It is wise for working daughters to be aware of any support or resources available that could help them successfully handle their dual roles. If your workplace is a Union Shop, you could find out about your rights in the workplace and ask a Union representative to voice your needs to management. Ask the employer about 'compassionate leave' or a standard leave of absence. Check with your boss about any backup emergency care services your company might offer through an assistance program for employees. Form a group of workers with the same caregiving responsibilities. As a united group, you may get more respect from an employer who wants to keep their staff happy. There is power in numbers.
Certainly, knowing that a loved one is safe and well-looked after is reward enough for a working daughter. But in reality, the personal pay-offs are far-reaching. Successfully managing a family, career and taking care of elderly parents is a feat of stamina, endurance and strength, an accomplishment to be proud of for a lifetime. It is an opportunity for personal growth and skill-building. Caring for others develops qualities of empathy and compassion and teaches patience, understanding and loyalty, very valuable attributes that enrich one's personal life and boost success in the workplace. Women gain life skills in managing stress and handling difficult situations through the challenges of juggling work, family and care giving.
In the end, all those hours of dedicated care to their loved ones make working daughters valuable assets to any company.
Home Instead offers free monthly newsletters with tips and advice for caregivers of elderly loved ones.