Neck deep in caregiving

You’re now neck deep into your caregiving journey: Here come the hidden “gotchas.”

You’ve taken on the responsibility of caring for your aging parents’ lives, willingly or not.  The fact that your actually managing or just helping out with their care is something to be applauded.  However, as you go along your journey, focused on your folks’ welfare, keep your wits about you. There are loads of events, situations, and even people who will hinder, trip you up, or wind up sinking you and everything you’re trying to do. 


Balancing Your Work and Professional Life with Caregiving. 

Are you getting this at work?  Furtive glances, soft whispers in the office, previously unmentioned expectations, noted performance inadequacies?

Concerning? Callous? Unfair?  Possibly all three, but you need to understand that this is simply a dose of reality about the corporate/business world: Most businesses do not focus on employees’ personal outside-of-work needs (unless you’re at the very top). Few seem to grasp that employees are real people, and that their personal and professional lives intertwine with one affecting the other.  If you’re lucky you have an  empathetic boss who can cut you some slack. However, exceptions can only go so far, rarely extending for years over your care journey. 

If you have peers/team members who rely on you, don’t expect long term empathy either. It might be helpful to know, though, that more of your peers than you realize are also helping to care for an aging parent, often spending more than 20 hours a week doing so. This, is in addition to their regular work hours and family schedule activities.

 What can you do? 

Take some leave when you need to.

Consider FMLA options if you can afford to do so. This can be a tough decision to make.  While companies with 50 or more employees are required by federal law to provide FMLA (up to 12 weeks of unpaid leave during a 12-month period), there can be state restrictions on who gets this support.  In addition, 11 states now offer some form of paid family leave. The rules for this are also set at the state level and many put the primary emphasis on newborn care.  

Taking advantage of an FMLA benefit will also impact your income.  However, a few days can help you find and arrange home care for your parents. The time can also be used to start looking for a care facility, if needed.  

Check For Other Company Benefits

 If comfortable bringing the subject of family caregiving up to Human Resource (if available), ask about other benefits the company offers. You shouldn’t expect your employer to have benefits to help you on this front. However, some do provide access to social workers or care facility resources.  

It’s important to note what you’re looking for will, in most cases, go beyond the capacity for these services to help. At the base level, what you may need is very localized.  Knowing how to research, ask questions and quickly get what you need at this level takes a different type of skill to guide you through this time.

Many companies will use what I call the Finger in the Dike model so that they appear to be helping – for legal and socially responsible reasons – instead of getting at the root of what will help. 

Consider finding a more empathetic, supportive work environment?

Hopefully, quitting to find another job at this time, will be your last resource.  If you do get to this stage, take time to research the full extent of benefits an employer offers for employees caring for aging parents – not just parents of young children.  Changing jobs when you’re under this type of stress can cause other issues like delays in being eligible for full benefits.  

The decision to leave or change is made by many: over 40% of employees will quit their jobs or find another that takes less time and often less pay to focus on their caregiving obligations. Sadly, many others get fired.   Example:  Just last week I had a conversation with a corporate manager who left her job to help her ill father take care for her mother.  Her employer desperately tried to encourage her to stay but she left anyway.  When I shared the 40% statistic she said,” I honestly thought I was the only one who had quit to help their parents.”  You’re not alone!

One note: although company benefits are available to both men and women, more caregiving women get silently “shunned” or get passed over for promotions.


The Funnel of Isolation

It’s easy to become so focused and Immersed in your caregiving role, that you wind up, unintentionally, drifting apart from, or pushing away your spouse, children, and friends. 

Isolation can easily creep up on you.  You end up feeling alone and resentful about your caregiving.  This can manifest in depression, and lashing out at those you love.  You can end up feeling, and actually being alone, for a very long time.  

What can you do?

Delegate some care work to family members.

Sharing the work with other family members who are willing or at least feel somewhat responsible for caring will help in giving you breaks, relieving stress, and improving your family relationships through shared goals. However, you need to accurately assess their willingness, understanding, and ability to help, so you don’t make your relationships worse.

Friends, true friends that is, can be called upon, too. Close friends of your parents may be more willing to help out, than friends of yours. Beware that friendships can be easily and inadvertently abused. Also, keep in mind that many you know will say they want to help, but are really unable to, or no longer want to once they understand what is involved.  This can lead to mutual resentment, at best.

Involve Your Parents in Social Activities 

Enrolling your folks in adult daycare centers, local senior centers, and neighborhood social groups can expand their social networks and yours, as well.

Join a Local Group of Caregivers

The ranks of family caregivers are huge, and growing.  A bit of research and heightened alertness should help you find those in the same boat as you.  Local billboards and online searching can uncover groups of like-minded caregivers, such as the Eldercare Success group. Be wary of those who seem to want to help, but only want to sell you stuff, or scam you.

Hire an aide 

Apart-time or full-time helper, if affordable, honest, and reliable, can give you more time to spend with family and friends. It can also be an investment in your own health too, as it relieves some physical and emotional stress.


Finances: Who thought this would cost so much?

Pennies count: yours and theirs.  Don’t go broke! Employed family caregivers spend an average of 33% of their own income, to supplement their parent’s care needs.  

An AARP employee went public sharing how she had to declare bankruptcy because of caring for her own aging parents. This travesty that can happen to anyone. Financial stress, in addition to caregiving stress, is also one of the leading causes of physical burnout.

Our parents may not have saved enough to cover the full cost of their health and physical care.  There are ways to manage their medical expenses, so that they do not drain your own bank account.  The key here is to think and act with practical responsibility.  Understand what, and how to sign their bills so that you aren’t caught in a legal obligation that you didn’t expect.  

What can you do?

Know what you’re facing or will face in the future. Ask yourself:

Do I have the full details of my parents’ financial strength?

Do I understand the costs of care and how this will change over time?

 If they’re going to move to a care facility, do I know all the hidden costs, or how to ask the right questions about the facility contract before they move in?  (Link to care contract program – CareManity)

Am I aware of all the resources that can help me manage their care expenses?

If they run out of money, will my siblings be able to help supplement their care related expenses?

There’s still more ahead:  Stage Four and Five 

The key at this point is for you to understand that your life, career, and happiness are just as important as your parents.  Keeping this in balance is an up-and-down challenge. Knowing how to ask questions of others who have been on your journey and can provide honest, empathetic, and direct input is critical to your own strength.  If you need this type of help, join our CareManity group HERE. 

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