Walking the Tightwire: Balancing Caregiving with Career

Every day family caregivers face the challenges of balancing many areas of responsibility in their lives. For some, the problem comes in managing the needs of raising children with those of caring for aging family members. Others strive to find time for nurturing a marriage as well as caring for children as well as parents or grandparents. Many family caregivers also have jobs or careers that place additional demands on their time and energy. Add to any or all of these commitments things like church or community involvement, time with friends, exercise, and sleep, and you might feel like 24 hours just isn’t nearly enough to get everything done!

This week, let’s consider the plight of caregivers in the workplace. If you are balancing a career or full-time job with caring for aging parents or family members, you are walking a tightwire every day, but you shouldn’t feel alone in your struggles. Over 60% of today’s family caregivers work in addition to caring for aging family members. Some share their situation with co-workers or supervisors, but others keep things to themselves and silently strive to manage their overwhelming responsibilities.

When my mother developed a blood clot in her leg in December of 2016, I knew that I needed to be with her more than a few times a year. I stepped up my visit schedule to spend about a week every month down in Georgia. Visiting with that frequency from our home in Virginia necessitated air travel to maximize my time with my mother while minimizing the travel time it took to accomplish my mission. During those visits, I still kept up with emails, returned phone calls, and worked on projects for my company, but I did all of this early in the morning or late in the evening so that my work would not intrude on quality time spent caring for my mother. Since Chris and I own our company, I didn’t have to negotiate this time away with an employer, and my wonderful staff kept things going in my absence. But most family caregivers don’t have the luxury to come and go from work as I did during that last year with my mom.

Amy Goyer writes of her experiences as a working family caregiver in this article posted for AARP. She shares invaluable insights about her experiences and the progression of her career decisions as her parents’ health conditions worsened. If your workplace offers options like flex time or remote work, usually referred to as telecommuting, these options might be beneficial to help you during this time. You could also look into whether your situation is qualified under the Family Medical Leave Act, which will allow you to miss up to 12 weeks of work while still having job security, but there are specific employer qualifications, and this is unpaid time off.

You need to schedule a time to talk with your employer as soon as possible. It’s your responsibility to speak up and make your needs known to the right people to discover your best options. Web MD gives lots of useful tips about the importance of having this conversation. Most employers would prefer to offer some flexibility and retain a great worker rather than losing you to rigid policies and having to train a new person to take over your job.

If you find yourself in a situation where you just cannot continue at your current job, you could look at picking up a more flexible work option. Flex Jobs shares helpful information about how family caregivers can find balance, and they also post flex job options on their site.

The important things to keep in mind are twofold: first, you must take care of yourself first so you can care for others in your life. Chris and I will continue to reinforce this truth because it is the first commandment for a family caregiver! Second, if you don’t let others know what you need, they won’t know how to help. You must share, share, share! Let others know where you are struggling. Family members, friends, and neighbors, your church and work-family all need to know how to help so they can become part of your solution. Also, many of these relational resources may become an essential part of your backup plan in the case of an emergency that comes out of the blue.

Chris and I hope you will join our conversation this week here at Heart of the Caregiver and share your heart about balancing caregiving with your career.

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