Career vs. Caregiving
We know one size doesn’t fit all. There are, however, commonalities:
- We care about helping our aging parents
- We need to know parents are safe and their things won’t be stolen
- If we have siblings, we need to know how/if they can/will help
- If no siblings, whom can we count on?
- We need to know ourselves (we’re most successful when we do things in keeping with our self-image)
- We need certain information at our fingertips
- We need to be realistic about the normal demands on us that can’t be compromised.
Whether living near or far, employed or not, regardless of where our parents are on the aging curve, regardless of health issues, the above are basic. To elaborate:
- Caring. If, indeed, the designated caregiver in a family can be identified at a very early age (as discussed in previous posts), and it’s us, we care. We feel responsibility. We know we’ll be there for our parents. Can we juggle our predisposition for caring with a career?
Also there’s a heads-up that I believe every professional working with adult children will advocate: Never say “never” about what you won’t do for aging parents (ie. promise never to put them in nursing homes).
Edited from my unpublished manuscript: A devoted only child, Mary promised her then-active, healthy mother she would never put her in a nursing home. Her mother, in her later years, came to live with Mary, who worked in a doctor’s office. Ultimately health issues developed, so Mary hired someone to be with her mother during work hours.
Finally her mother lost mobility accompanied by major health issues. Mary had difficult stairs in her home, did not have finances to hire 24/7 help, and couldn’t do the physical work required. Her mother had to go to a nursing home. No choice. Years later, Mary remembers every minute of her mother’s being taken from her home to a nursing home. Guilt remains.
- Parents and their possessions-safe. If we are the caregivers for our parents, we think they will be as safe as possible. Furthermore, there’s no risk that valuables will disappear–taken by “helpers” who, to put it bluntly, may steal. Can we let go of this concern?
I remember when Dad had money that was hidden, stolen. Didn’t know if it was a part-time caregiver, cleaning lady, or who, but it was enormously upsetting. Dad, who was mentally sharp, was told to sleep with his wallet under his pillow by someone “in the know.” I think he did!
- Siblings. I’ve written about my relationship with my brother in “About Me” above. My background enables me to assess people pretty well. Sometimes there are surprises–a sibling comes through unexpectedly or the opposite occurs. When in doubt it usually makes sense, to discuss with siblings how they can help (giving them an idea of some of the tasks). Otherwise ask a good friend who knows your siblings for his or her thoughts. Then when you need a sibling—punt!–or ask your good friend for help.
On the other hand, when a sibling or family member is capable and willing to share the caregiving, careers can continue.
- Only children. The Lone Ranger wasn’t “lone.” He had a sidekick, Tonto! 24/7 caregiving by one person isn’t conducive to good physical or mental health over an extended period. (Forget any thoughts of an additional day job.) Find out, before problems arise, if other family members can help out. Also check with good friends and your parents’ neighbors. (See preceding, sometimes we get lucky.)
- Our self-image. How do we see ourselves? Capable? Needy? Risk-taker? Responsible? Disorganized? Perfectionist? Doing things that are in keeping with our self-image works well. Career-wise, work that fits our self-image often affords us the financial ability to hire caregivers, yet it can compromise things we hold dear when it comes to our aging parents.
“When we hire caregivers, forget being a perfectionist,” says a successful professional. One of two far-away-living daughters who amicably shared responsibility for their aging parents, she said every time she visited her parents she saw the kitchen was messy; house wasn’t as clean as it used to be; dishes had new chips in them etc…
She realized she had to “let go” and concentrate on the fact her parents were being well cared for, while she and her sister worked at high level jobs which paid enough to hire the best (‘tho not perfect) caregivers they could find from an agency.
- Information: Names, addresses, email addresses, phone numbers of parents’ neighbors, friends, bank personnel, financial advisor, attorney, cleaning person and of course medical people. A friend whose remaining parent died a year ago says she thinks that list is still in her purse. That list, be it on paper or a smart phone, is invaluable whether parents live near or far.
- Reality is reality: listing our non-negotiable responsibilities clarifies our “must-do’s” and highlights our spoken-for time, helping us decide “do we even need to” continue our career.
Realize that at age 26 most working mothers (2 careers) can better accommodate major demands from work and home than we can at age 62. 26-year-olds are younger, stronger, quicker, have more stamina, and can “abuse” themselves (less sleep, miss meals, eat junk food etc.) without diminishing their effectiveness.
- Finances: No doubt the over-riding issue that dictates how much outside help we can/can’t afford is financial. It makes sense to work with a social worker or geriatric care manager to assess aging parents’ needs and available free help from family members–ourselves included. Then make a decision about how to allocate resources–human and financial.
Ultimately this may have the most influence as we evaluate career vs. caregiving.