Balancing Career, Family and Caregiving: Caregivers Say They Feel the Squeeze

David Heitz is a writer who spent 13 years looking after and advocating for his father with Pick’s Disease, who died last year. David is a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors. Many caregivers say employers aren’t doing a very good job understanding the demands of caring for an elder or disabled loved one and making accommodations to support them. That squeeze is especially felt by the “Sandwich Generation”—people who are taking care of elderly parents and children at the same time. The 2016 Working and Caregiving Survey sponsored by found that more than 60 percent of the caregivers surveyed work at least 40 hours per week on top of their caregiving duties. On top of that, they may be shuttling their non-driving teens to the movies, a friend’s house, or attending their school events. Just over half of those surveyed said working from home would be a helpful accommodation. That would allow them to be there if a child needs homework help, for example, while also making sure mom or dad’s needs are met. About half also put having a flexible work schedule on their wish list, as being a caregiver is an unpredictable job. While a parent’s need to take time off to tend to an ill child usually goes unquestioned, telling your boss you will need the afternoon off to run mom or dad to the doctor elicits bewilderment and disapproval from many managers—especially when it happens the second, third and fourth times. While parents enjoy seeing their children grow up and become self-sufficient, the opposite often happens with their parents. They decline over time, and their needs only become greater.

“Should I quit my job because of my caregiving responsibilities?”

When asked in the survey, “Do you struggle with the question, ‘Should I quit my job because of my caregiving responsibilities?’” more than 27 percent said yes, 32 percent said no, and 28 percent said “sometimes.” If the data seems ambiguous, the comments tell the story: “I talked to my manager in December 2015 and told her I could no longer keep up this pace. They offered me one-year unpaid leave to sort out the lack of available nursing or they could eliminate my position and give me severance. I chose the latter….” Said another: “It’s actually not a question for me – I HAVE to work in order to stay solvent and keep a home and food on the table. Thankfully, I have adult children at home who can help and right now my career is not so critical that I can’t leave him alone. But I fear that time will come sooner than I hope.” In their case, having children at home actually helps the situation—of course, they’re adults. Some employees use the Family Medical Leave Act to care for a parent, which may be unpaid time off but at least allows for someone to keep their job while being away for caregiving. More than two thirds surveyed said they don’t even dare discuss their caregiver situation with their employer because nothing good will come from it.

Tips for caregivers struggling with balancing work and caregiving

Caregivers must educate themselves about their loved one’s illness immediately upon diagnosis and be prepared, realistically, for what’s ahead. A dementia-related illness means eventually a loved one will need round-the-clock care, and depending upon the diagnosis, it may happen sooner rather than later. Hiring a professional caregiver early on can help a family caregiver learn the ropes and make the transition from career to full-time caregiver smoother. Some people may choose to work part-time while a loved one goes to adult daycare. Others find that the electronic age makes working from home—even working for one’s self—a lot easier than it used to be. In fact, in today’s economy, many employers are hiring more and more workers on a contract or freelance basis. Joining a condition-specific caregiver support group (Alzheimer’s, MS, etc.), even if it is only an online group, is critical. It’s a safe place to vent about frustrations you encounter at work. Other members of the Sandwich Generation also will share tips abut how they handle having both their children at home as well as the elders, and in some cases find it helpful.

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