For businesswomen in their late 40s and 50s, many are consumed in a challenging balancing act: work, children, and parents. It’s been called the sandwich era – when one is engaged in both launching young adult children while caring for aging parents. Nearly two-thirds of those providing care for others are women.1 Nearly 30% of women are currently providing financial support.2 So the balance involves not only financial resources, but emotional resources as well. I’ve watched many of my friends play this juggling act. While there are no easy answers, what I’ve learned a few tips from my own experience and theirs:
- Talk sooner rather than later with your parents. We tend to avoid talks with our parents about where they should live, what type of care they need, and the worst – taking away the car keys. In fact, 54% of us would rather have the “sex talk” with our kids than difficult discussions with our aging parents.1 I’ve spoken with my parents individually, as they were divorced. The talk my sister and I had with our father to get him to move closer to one of us (he was 8 hours away) was painful. Hindsight says we should have broached this topic sooner, before his health had deteriorated. Planting seeds along the way may make it smoother when it comes time to make a big decision.
- Hire help. Don’t do it all yourself. Hire help for your household such as lawn maintenance, house cleaners, food preparation services, etc. For your parents, hire personal assistants who can help them with minor tasks. And of course get them in the proper setting depending on the severity of their health issues. If your children are struggling finding a job or getting launched, look at professional services such as career coaches to help.
- Lean on your siblings. If you are lucky like me and several of my friends, you have siblings who may not be the primary caregiver but are willing and able to help out. I’ve seen these situations bring siblings closer than they were previously in their adult lives. Most importantly, they know your parents well.
- Determine your career goals. Some of my friends have downsized their careers during this phase, while others are more engaged now that their children are out of the home. The key is to be honest with yourself. What can you give to your work and other responsibilities? What can you accomplish that you’ll feel good about, yet isn’t unrealistic? Statistics tell us that the caregiving role can negatively impact women’s careers. Research shows that 36 percent of women asked for time off from work to care for another, while 34 percent have had to adjust their hours.2 If adjusting hours is necessary, then it reinforces the need to set realistic goals for your work life during this phase.
- Take care of your own health. I’ve had friends who have run themselves down physically and unfortunately ended up quite ill. This is an easy one to state, but so hard to get done…. It tends to be the last thing many consider during this phase. Remember, if you aren’t healthy, you won’t be able to care for your family or be effective at work.
It can be a tough juggling act. Most of the women I know who have dealt with this have sleepless nights and crazy days. Usually one of the three areas gets less attention. However, most of us would say we wouldn’t trade the family care – whether it’s young adult children and/or aging parents – for more pay or a better job. There tends to be silver linings if you build deeper relationships at this time with your family. Good luck!
1 2015 Cost of Care Survey, Care.com
2 Women & Caregiving Facts & Figures 2015