Caregiving Is Not The Same As Childcare

My daughter, Fiona, turned seven this year. Still, I remember my pregnancy like it was yesterday.

Alyson and I had launched 2Sisters the year before and it was a busy time. Fortunately, thanks to Mother Nature (!), I had several months to prepare for my new role as a parent.

My husband, Shawn, and I researched pediatricians. We bought baby furniture. We even relocated to the Cape to take advantage of more affordable childcare. And we planned carefully for a six-week maternity leave that would take me away from the business.

But I remember more than just logistics; I learned when you are visibly pregnant, the world treats you like a minor celebrity. And while I admit to sometimes being uncomfortable with all the advice and attention from complete strangers (I’m a bit of an introvert!), it was an exciting, happy time.

Caregiving for an Aging Loved One is Nothing Like Pregnancy

You have all the burden, but none of the joy. Few people understand what you are going through. Usually, there is no time to prepare. In most cases, as adult caregivers, we are simply thrust into the role with little guidance or warning.

And it can be a sad time. There’s a grieving associated with watching our parents and others we love become less independent, less active and, in many cases, less recognizable.

But there are things you and your family can do to ease the difficulty of this natural life phase:

#1. Talk to your employer.

It’s important to understand —before a crisis occurs— how much leeway you’ll have should a parent or loved one need you.

Can you work from home temporarily? Can you interrupt the workday to speak with medical professionals? If you need to take time off, how will that be handled and what policies (if any) does the company have in place?

Of course, different professions and work circumstances allow for different degrees of flexibility. But a good work environment is one in which you can talk openly about these concerns. Just as we take childcare policies and programs into account in choosing an employer (or even a career), it’s worth considering how those we work with view adult caregiving responsibilities.

#2. Talk to your family.

There are many considerations when caring for an older adult. Questions include things like whether mom and dad should sell their home, which type and location of residential care community (if any) is best, and how to effectively distribute care and legal responsibilities among adult children.

It’s best to begin a family conversation sooner rather than later, and include the older adult(s) to whatever extent possible.

Will there be disagreements? Most likely! But that’s usually because everyone cares, and everyone wants to make sure the best decisions are made. So bring it out in the open, now, before life events force quick action.

And remember, if you can’t reach agreement as a family, there are mediators and other professionals who specialize in exactly this sort of thing.

#3. Plan ahead.

In most instances, it’s an unplanned hospital stay (from a fall, for example) that forces a family to scramble. It suddenly becomes clear that Mom can no longer care for herself at home, and the hospital tells you she’s being dischargedtoday. They hand you a list of nearby facilities and ask you where you want her to go. Meanwhile, you’ve got kids to pick up from school and work deadlines hanging over you.

That’s no way to make such an important decision. There are care needs to consider, as well as financial, cultural and location factors. Plus, different facilities have different reputations for cleanliness, staffing and quality of care.

Taking these factors into account takes time — the one thing you won’t have in the middle of an emergency. The best time to consider your options is now, while life is relatively stable.

Don’t Wait for a Crisis

None of these decisions are easy. Alyson and I have been there with our parents, too, and we understand.

But waiting is your worst option. Talk to your employer, talk to your family, talk to us. Do what you can now to anticipate what could happen in the future.

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