I Would Have Been Fired … the plight of caregiving

“One in 4 working caregivers have contemplated changing jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities. They’ve cut their hours, avoided business trips, and even turned down job promotions. 78% either are caring for a parent or anticipate caring for a parent.” The Caregiver Space provided the statistics in outlining how employers can support family caregivers.

Over the past two years in caregiving for my elderly parents, I have cut my hours, turned down speaking engagements, and let go of opportunities. Book tours are on hold until further notice. “Maybe” is my new standard answer. I can’t commit for fear that things will suddenly turn upside down, as they often do. YES is reserved for the manageable minimum. In the professional and personal realm, I’ve learned to say “MAYBE” – it relieves me of being apologetic, regretful, and inadequate.

Running my own company provides me the grace to change gears and priorities. I have the luxury of filling a mostly-volunteer flexible capacity, thanks to my husband’s gainful employment.  Looking at my sporadic schedule and MAYBE list, it’s clear that I would have been fired by now if I were not self-employed. Even though my parents don’t live in our home, my time slants toward coordination of care, paperwork, phone calls, crisis management (as it occurs), follow-up communication with providers, and preservation of quality time. My husband and our children, my parents and friends have priority in my time slant. I suspect there are few people at the end of life who wish they’d spent more time working.

Still, juggling work and caring for an aging loved one does have long-lasting consequences. PBS News Hour reported that eventually, 10 percent of caregivers report quitting their jobs to provide care full-time, resulting in an average loss of more than $303,880 each in wages, Social Security income and pension income over a lifetime.

Caregivers, what have you done to adjust or alleviate such consequences?

It’s important to keep in mind that this caregiving “season” is temporary. I am a dedicated, resilient, and resourceful self-employed individual … I am still among the employed/volunteer workforce. I haven’t fired myself yet. Humor helps too! 🙂 Keeping a bucket list of aspirations and goals helps me stay focused on the here-and-now, without dismissing the future. Caregivers too often suffer the loss of their dreams just as the “patient” does.  Dr. Karl Hawver, Assistant Clinical Professor of Psychiatry at Georgetown University Medical Center explains, “the tragedy of a debilitating illness goes far beyond the patients themselves.”

Our bodies function as connected parts of a whole being. Listen for the quiet messages that say, “I’m out of balance.”  Your dreams and aspirations, your sense of worth and ability outside of caregiving is what’s going to keep you afloat during and after. Seedcamp at Virgin.com suggests entrepreneurs carry a big vision. “When you combine that with the ability to inspire others, things get very interesting.” That is excellent advice for caregivers, too.

Consider, again, “the 5 things caregivers are NOT” … #5 helps keep those dreams and aspirations in place, for the time when YES can overtake MAYBE. It is an all-consuming world at times. You can combat isolation by taking a constructive look at who you are laugh picoutside of being a caregiver. Whether you’re one of the nearly 60 percent of caregivers working outside the home or one of the growing numbers caring for a parent with Alzheimer’s 24/7, other parts of you can too easily fall by the wayside. Regularly engage and celebrate who else you are … make it a priority like any other appointment on the calendar. Take time to be present as a spouse, mother, sister, daughter, friend – connect over something other than caregiving – they need it as much as you do. Play a board game, immerse in a 1960’s potluck party, sit outside after dark and count the stars, engage in water sports, imagine a different time … make a bucket list. When you lose your loved one, your connection to others shouldn’t be lost too. You are not just a caregiver.

Recently, a little project got my “YES”.. it’s a way of inspiring others while providing hope through reading. Our Little Pink Books are going on retreat! You can help send them! Just click HERE.

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