Elizabeth Miller, a speaker at my third Caregiver Smile Summit, spoke to me about preparing for the inevitable caregiver crisis while you are at work. She is a family caregiver, certified caregiving consultant, and founder of Happy Healthy Caregiver.
Elizabeth’s career was starting to take off when she became part of the sandwich generation of caregivers, caring for a mother-in-law with lung cancer and then, after her dad passed, to her mom.
The first dilemma a lot of working caregivers find themselves in is understanding when there is a real crisis at home or if someone is crying wolf all the time. It’s very real.
Mom falling versus mom needing her shopping list complete are two different scenarios. One you run out of work for and the other you do after work.
My mom was sly as a fox, often deliberately playing helpless when she full well could do some of the things that she called me – and before me, my sister – about.
Elizabeth certainly related. Her mom never really lived on her own. Went from school to marriage. Practically, she forgot – or never really learned – how to advocate for herself.
Elizabeth had to show her that if she would start advocating for herself and for what she wanted, it wasn’t going to be prudent for her to be calling all the time asking for intervention.
So, it’s important to understand the capabilities, physically and mentally, of your loved one, and make sure they are exercising them to their fullest, both for your benefit and theirs, and setting boundaries and expectations.
It’s fine to say, “No, I can’t be there every day, but Thursday is our day to food shop, and Tuesday is our social day together, and I’ll check in on you over the weekend.”
If Elizabeth had to travel, it meant preparing her husband for his caregiving role. She made sure he had essential passwords, phone numbers, etc.
Likewise, when at her desk, she had all of her mom’s information instantly available.
And likewise, if she had to run to mom’s, she made sure she had her chargers and her notebooks for any project she was working on. You need to be able to do work if you’re sitting by your loved one’s bed side.
Simply put, be prepared at home, at work, or away by having contingency plans in place and all the information and materials you need to take care of your work and your loved one from afar.
Every employer has a different culture when it comes to caregivers in the workforce. Some can be downright vindictive; others are more than accommodating.
Elizabeth had to communicate with her boss and colleagues at a high level about being in this season of her life where she was caring for kids and caring for aging parents and that she really needed some flexibility.
She didn’t give a ton of detail, just enough to assure them that she needed to be ready if something bad were to happen. While she needed some flexibility, she wasn’t going to drop the ball either.
At this point, she was not seeking to grow her career or take on any new projects. She was keeping the light on, so to speak.
Elizabeth recommends that you keep communicating with your employer. Let them know when you are out of office. Let them know when you are able to respond back to them on important things to keep projects moving.
She recommends trying to simplify all the areas of your life. Delegate when you can. It only makes sense. Mentor another person for a growth opportunity. Be calm instead of trying to become indispensable. Own what you really have to do, and do it to the best of your ability.
Gauge the culture of your workplace to understand how best to approach co-workers. Reach out discretely to human resources.
Often there are caregiver benefits available that employees are not aware of. It took Elizabeth a year to understand there were employee assistance programs she could have utilized.
Caregiving is a family affair – or should be. When my wife was caring for her mom, I took over some of the household responsibilities that she usually did, and she took some from me when I cared for my mom.
There are apps available where you can divvy caregiving responsibilities amongst family and friends. Elizabeth says there is something freeing when you sit down with your family and you really talk through who owns what, who’s accountable. It lightens your load and your worry.
What tips can you provide to readers about being a working family caregiver? How do you cope? Please share and join in the conversation.