Striking the Right Balance: Work Versus Caregiving

You have an important meeting at 8:00 a.m., but your father fell in the bathroom after supper and you spent half the night with him in the ER. You missed lunch with colleagues for the third time this week because you had to follow up with your mother’s physician about a change in her medications. You’re having trouble concentrating because you’re not sleeping enough, stressing about your loved one’s failing health. And now your boss is giving you a hard time about another missed deadline.

Caring for an aging, ailing loved one is challenging enough. When you have to work for a living and take on the primary caregiver role, finding the right balance among all of your responsibilities presents an even greater challenge.

Take Care of Yourself

In order to find that proper balance, you first need to make time to take care of yourself, so that you’ll have the energy to be present for those you love and still be able to meet your work commitments. Easy to say, much harder to do. Particularly for women, who often fulfill the caregiver role and are socialized to put personal needs second, the idea of placing a priority on yourself can sound selfish.

Think of it this way: If an airplane loses cabin pressure, you’re told to put the oxygen mask on yourself, first, then assist others; likewise, you need to ensure your own health and well-being, first, in order to be an effective caregiver and worker.

Especially when you’re under pressure both at work and caring for your loved one, it’s essential to make time for yourself for exercise, hobbies, visiting with friends, a relaxing bath, a walk with your significant other—whatever you find most helpful to unwind.

No time for that? Then it’s time to reevaluate your schedule and obligations, and to ask for help. None of us can be all things to all people all the time. Here are a few tips for balancing caregiving, work and other commitments:

Think Like a Manager

Whether you’re a boss or worker bee, you need to delegate. Assess your work style. Do you take on more than you need to in order to fulfill your work responsibilities? Are there tasks you can simplify or share with co-workers? Discuss these possibilities with your supervisor with the goal of problem-solving together, rather than appearing to want to shirk your commitments. And be sure to thank all those who support you.

At home, ask your family members to pitch in with chores to build more flexible time into your schedule. If you have siblings, talk to them about sharing some of the care responsibilities, including visits and trips to the doctor if they are nearby, and helping to manage bills or spelling you on your vacation if they live farther away.

If you’re used to doing everything yourself and have a strong need for control, this can be challenging at first, because it requires you to trust others with caregiving responsibilities. Bringing other family members into the caregiving circle can be challenging, but also potentially enriching for all involved. It also makes it much clearer to other family members what you are dealing with and encourages them to step up.

Explore Work Options

If you work for a larger organization, you may be able to take advantage of flex time, telecommuting arrangements or offer to work a less desirable shift in order to gain needed hours during the day for caregiving. You may also have options for job-sharing or working part-time.

Of course, reducing your hours, whether you work for a large or smaller organization, can create a significant financial hardship. If you have extended family, explore the possibility of compensation for your lost income through a family care contract if you cut back at work in order to devote more hours to your loved one. Payment can come from family members and/or your loved one.

Be sure to discuss your situation with your supervisor and explore options. It’s important to be honest about the stresses you’re facing, while at the same time understanding that your employer is not responsible for your home life. It’s always better to explain why you’re struggling to get to work on time because of caregiving challenges than to continually show up late. Often employers will appreciate your commitment to family and desire to do well on the job, and will work with you to find a mutually agreeable solution.

Set Boundaries at Work and Home

While it’s not always possible to avoid caregiving calls while you’re at work, try to set limits on when you are available so that your home life doesn’t consistently interfere with your responsibilities on the job.

At home, set limits on your availability, as well. No one can successfully be a caregiver 24/7. Be sure to cultivate hobbies and activities that enable you to recharge your energy and spirit. Explore community resources for additional support, and if your family resources allow, hire an advocate or care manager to help you give your loved one the best care possible.

President of Deborah Fins Associates, PC, since 1995, Deborah Liss Fins is a licensed independent clinical social worker and certified geriatric care manager. Drawing on more than 30 years of professional experience in geriatric care management, DFA offers comprehensive assessments and planning, guidance in selecting appropriate care, help identifying resources for financial support and professional consulting. Please contact us to set up a complimentary initial telephone consultation.

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