Eight tips for the working caregiver
It’s hard to watch our parents get older, especially when it becomes clear they’ll need more help to manage their day-to-day lives.
When you suddenly find yourself in the role of caregiver, it can be especially difficult to manage your work-life balance when you have professional responsibilities and may also be juggling parenting responsibilities.
So how can you help your parents and not burn out? Here are eight tips for managing both the impact on your schedule and your budget.
1) Make a calendar
Have a way to keep track of your busy schedule, whether through a free tool like Google calendar or other similar products. The key is finding a system that works for you, either through an app on your phone, a desktop calendar, or even an old-school paper organizer.
Try colour-coding certain activities to help keep them clear and organized between work activities, parenting, and caregiving responsibilities. The benefit of apps and other electronic calendars is they can send you reminders when it’s almost time for a new activity, so you won’t miss any of your important commitments.
2) Look into funeral insurance
One of the expenses that caregivers forget about often is the expenses incurred after they lose the person they care for. Depending on what your senior parent’s wishes are, funerals and burials can cost thousands of pounds.
It might be wise to look into the cost of funeral insurance (also called “final expense insurance” and “burial insurance”) for your parents. There are lots of plans to choose from, and the sooner you get it the least expensive it is.
It’s also important to ensure that they have a will. You can read more here about what happens to your assets when you die, and how probate works.
It’s not easy to talk about, but your parents might feel more peace knowing that the burden will not fall on you when they’re gone.
3) Ask family and friends for help
In a time of crisis or difficulty, people often ask how they can help, or they ask you to let them know if there’s something they can do. Now, you can put those offers to practical use.
Delegate responsibilities and tap into the power of group scheduling websites like Lotsa Helping Hands, which can help you to cover necessary errands such as rides to medical appointments, meal deliveries, visits, shopping trips, and whatever else is needed.
The website will send notifications to remind helpers when it’s time to perform the activity. It can be a huge timesaver for you, not to mention a big way to reduce your anxiety about covering all bases.
4) Tap into the power of family leave benefits
Nationally in the US, businesses are required to offer up to 12 weeks of unpaid family leave to employees to take care of a newborn or a family member who is ill.
In a crisis, you may need to use this benefit from your employer. Some US states even require paid family leave, reducing the financial burden on you. Small businesses are exempt from these requirements, but there may be ways your employer can offer you flexibility in scheduling instead.
In the UK you are entitled to a ‘reasonable amount of time’ to deal with an emergency involving a dependant, such as a spouse, partner, child, grandchild or parent.
Legally your employer doesn’t need to pay you for time off to look after dependants, but some may do. Check your contract, company handbook or intranet site to find out what you are entitled to.
While you may wish to keep your personal and professional lives separate, it may be necessary to open the lines of communication with your employer to find some time to care for your parent.
Check with your Human Resources department, look into what is legally required of your employer, and what other options may be created for you.
5) Check into other benefits
Family leave may not be the only option that can help you. Employers may have useful resources such as Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) or referrals to other tools.
Programmes such as eldercare assessment, legal advice and assistance, support groups, and other caregiving services may be available.
Use the information offered to you concerning community resources that might offer assistance such as daycare programs for your aging parent, discounts at local businesses, area services, and other benefits.
6) Alter your work schedule or situation
At some point, you may find it helpful to look into options for adjusting your work schedule or work location. If working from your home is an option, consider talking with your employer about setting up a plan to work remotely.
Ask about changing your hours to better accommodate your caregiving schedule. Look into whether reducing your hours is a possibility, though understand that doing so may impact your benefits.
Job sharing is another option that may allow you to work part-time while still retaining some benefits. If you’re already working without benefits or can use the benefits offered by a spouse or partner’s job, consider whether changing jobs or working as an independent are possibilities. Thinking creatively is key to making your work-life situation manageable.
7) Visit your financial advisor
Caregiving responsibilities may include managing your parent’s finances. AARP research shows 54% of family caregivers were also helping to manage their older relative’s finances, including helping them to pay bills, organise paperwork, or make financial decisions.
Look into whether establishing a power of attorney may help you to more easily help your loved one apply for aid or assistance, pay bills or take care of other documents that otherwise require a signature. This is best set up before your older relative has a health crisis and becomes unable to help you set it up.
Your financial advisor can help offer advice on financially caring for your parents and can help you plan for your own expenses, job changes, or other shifts in finances that may be necessary.
8) Don’t forget yourself
Often the first thing to disappear from your schedule when you’re working, caring for children, and managing aging parents is time for yourself. While you may need to postpone vacations or other extended time for yourself, you can and should find moments in your day that help revitalise and nurture your energy.
The stress of caregiving and an overloaded schedule can take a toll on your health, and you need to maintain it to ensure you have the energy and capacity to continue helping your loved ones. Carve out 10 minutes daily for meditation, breathing practice, yoga, tai chi, or other relaxing activities.
Make sure you maintain your social network – beyond surfing Facebook and other social media sites – such as through scheduling a quick coffee break with a friend, making a phone call, or asking someone to accompany you on an errand or other caregiving activity.
You may feel that your friends don’t understand what you’re facing, so finding a support group made up of other people experiencing the same thing can help.
Make sleep and healthy eating a priority for yourself – you do it for those you care for, so include yourself on your list.
Seek out all the resources you can
While there are many considerations when you’re caring for aging parents, there are resources to help them and to help you get you through this difficult time.
Choosing the actions that are helpful to your situation ultimately will reduce the stress that can build up when the demands on your time start to grow.
Photo by Esther Ann