Horne: Seeking balance between working and caregiving

I remember going back to work when my maternity leave was over after my second child.

There were many days when it was difficult to walk out the door and feel confident that the paid babysitter was doing a good enough job.

Having had many carefree years now of not worrying about such things, I find myself again feeling the pangs of guilt around balancing caring for my aging mom while working full-time running my own business.

It seems to be easy to fall back into the old superwoman role, running myself ragged trying to do my best for my mom, the rest of my family and my clients, and suddenly forgetting about my own needs in the process.

Who would have thought that those old familiar feelings would return?

I am certainly not alone. In a report entitled Balancing Paid Work and Caregiving Responsibilities: A Closer Look at Family Caregivers in Canada, it states that one in four employed Canadians care for an elderly dependent.

One in five (16.8 per cent) employed Canadians have responsibility for both childcare and eldercare, and almost one in four are spending more than a 100 hours a week fulfilling work and caregiving obligations.

Work-life balance has taken on a whole new meaning for many baby boomers who thought that striving for this would be a thing of the past as we age ourselves.

As you have often heard: “You can only understand what it is like being a parent when you become one.”

So it is as well when caring for an elderly person who is completely depending on you.

The above report cites that employees who care for elderly dependents can be considered “at risk” of experiencing a unique type of work-life conflict referred to as caregiver strain.

This is a multi-dimensional construct (physical, financial and emotional strain) which is defined in terms of “burdens” or changes in the caregivers’ day-to-day lives that can be attributed to the need to provide care.

The ripple effect of the burgeoning number of eldercarers on employers is staggering as well.

Direct costs to corporations present in turnover, absenteeism and additional benefit costs.

Indirect costs can also cause a lower return on investment in employees in terms of reduced productivity, focus and the impact this may have on clients. Is the answer to not help our parents in their time of need? I don’t believe so. Personally, I have become a better person from looking after my mom at home.

There is much to learn as a generation that has been given so much, as we make some sacrifices to ensure the best quality of life for our parents.

Looking at this issue through a variety of perspectives will help us in working collaboratively to address the financial, physical and emotional support that is needed for people who are trying to balance their work and caregiving roles.

For example, employed caregivers require understanding and sensitivity from their employer to deal with the uncertainty arising from the caregiving situation.

Specifically, access to alternative work arrangements and flexibility with respect to time off is much appreciated by these employees to reduce stress while accommodating their elder’s needs.

Looking through the financial lens, there are strategies to compensate the working caregiver.

The federal Compassionate Care Benefit provides financial assistance for families giving end of life care to a relative.

Mount Sinai Hospital in Toronto has recently been awarded a five-year, $2.84 million federal grant to develop a comprehensive training scheme that will provide “working caregivers” with strategies to care for aging loved ones with cognitive disabilities —all in their own workplace and even on company time.

This program will be developed through a partnership between Mount Sinai, the federal government and private sector innovators and is a great step towards recognizing that caring for our elders and their family carers is worthwhile.

Accessing resources is a primary foundation to address the issue of work-life balance and stress reduction for caregivers on a personal level.

Using your voice and your story is also important to effect change on the community and provincial level. I will explore this further in Part Two on this topic in my next bi-weekly column.

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