Hilary Thompson

There are currently 44 million unpaid eldercare providers and the majority of these caregivers are women. Most of these caregivers are juggling full-time jobs or have a few children at home. New research shows that the average caregiver is a 49-year-old woman who works outside the home and spends up to 20 hours a week providing unpaid care for a loved one.

If you’re among the number of women who are juggling the responsibilities of elder care, a full-time job, and motherhood, you know that things can get chaotic at times. Many working women who are caring for elderly parents often switch to a less-demanding job, and 39 percent quit altogether.

So, where can working women turn for help? Turns out there are a number of methods to manage the stress of eldercare, work, and motherhood.  

Make a list of priorities and tackle it. The first step in making a plan is figuring out all the responsibilities you have as a caregiver. This includes assessing your parent’s medical needs, assisting with basic needs like bathing, grooming, or toileting, or providing transportation. Once you’ve figured out all that needs to be done, create step-by-step list—there are lots of helpful apps for this. Then review it and figure out where you can delegate certain responsibilities and the times you might need help. Don’t forget to include some time for fun for both you and your parent. Squeezing in some time to get your nails done or see a movie can not only strengthen your relationship, but also keep you both sane. 

Create a daily care schedule. After you’ve created a list of priorities, you should consider creating a daily care schedule. This schedule should list specific times for all the daily tasks you’ve identified, including times for grooming, giving medicine, and providing transportation.  Invite your family to help with daily tasks—especially when you have scheduling conflicts. For example, if your dad has a weekly doctor’s appointment at 5 p.m., but you don’t get home from work until 5:30, have your teenage daughter or another sibling drive grandpa. Younger kids can also help out by bringing grandma her medicine or tucking her into bed.   

Take advantage of community resources. There are plenty of private and public organizations that offer eldercare support in communities. Offer transportation services, in-home care, or scores of senior activities for your elder to enjoy. To find out what services are available in your community, use Eldercare Locator. This site helps you find local, community services to help take care of your aging parents and manage your busy schedule. These services include long-term care planning, financial assistance, in-home services, healthy aging, and food and nutrition help.

Find out if you qualify for government assistance. Figuring out what government assistance you might be entitled to will take some time, but is totally worth it. Your parent may qualify for benefits that will provide you with some much needed relief. There are many government programs available that provide seniors with food and nutrition programs, assistance services, companionship programs, or healthcare options. To help you identify what government assistance is available to you, take a look this list of eldercare programs. 

Pick your battles. With so many competing needs—work, kids, and elder care—any small event that completely throws off your schedule can feel like a major crisis, and put your best stress-management techniques to the test. Paula Banks, an elder care expert who helps caregivers manage the responsibilities of elder care, says that this isn’t always true. When one of her clients is facing what feels like a crisis, she advises her clients to take a step back and look at the situation. She tells her clients to ask themselves: “Is anyone in immediate danger of death or dying?” If the answer is no, it’s not a crisis. She then advises her clients to take a step back, take some deep breaths, clear their head, and then break things down into smaller, more manageable tasks. If your dishes don’t get done or you were a little late dropping your son off at piano, it may feel like a big deal. But your house is still standing and your kids are still alive, which means things are ok.

Include your family in eldercare plans. No matter what age your kids are, everyone can help care for aging parents. Your five-year-old can bring nana a cup of juice, your 17-year-old can take their grandpa to a doctor’s appointment or for a drive around town, and your spouse can help with grooming or medical needs. Gathering your entire family at a meeting allows you to share information with your children about what their grandparent needs and how they can help. Encourage them to pick which responsibilities they would like to take on. This will encourage your child to be more independent, and will help take some stress off you.

Maintain your social life. Socialization is just as important for seniors as it is for caregivers. You might not have the energy to socialize with friends, neighbors, and colleagues, but make time to socialize. Make room for socialization in your weekly care plan. Carey Wexler Sherman, a gerontologist at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research, said: “Caregiving is done with a lot of love and affection, but there’s a lot of loss involved. People talk about friends disappearing, about even family members not wanting to be involved. It’s a lonely business.” To help combat this loneliness, make time to go out with friends or colleagues. Socialization can help combat stress, depression, and caregiver burnout. So make time to grab a cup of coffee with your coworkers in the morning or grab brunch with your friends on Sunday mornings. 

Work from home. Many caregivers cite telecommuting as the most helpful work option. It allows caregivers to continue providing care to aging parents without taking a lot of time off or losing productivity from traveling to work. Working from home can be challenging, but there are great tips to work from home successfully. It gives you the flexibility you need to manage your busy schedule and can increase your productivity. In fact, Best Buy, British Telecom, and many other companies report that teleworkers are 35-40 percent more productive. Working from your home office allows you to not only eliminate work distractions, but also ensure your parent is taken care of and that your kids are where they should be.

Talk to your employer. Providing eldercare is going to impact your job. You’re taking on a lot of responsibility, which means there may be times where this impacts your job. According to AARP’s 2015 Caregiving in the U.S report, 61 percent of caregivers report experiencing at least one impact to their job as a result of caregiving, including fewer working hours, taking a leave of absence, or receiving a warning about their job performance. By making your employer aware of your caregiving responsibilities, you can avoid workplace tension or lost productivity—which is the last thing you need. You’ll also be able to figure out what options are available such as working from home or a more flexible schedule.

Figure out your financial options. The cost of eldercare adds up. A report from Indiana University showed that informal caregivers provide service that would cost the Medicare system up to $375 billion a year. On top of eldercare costs, you also have the day-to-day costs of taking care of your family. This can get expensive. However, there are financial options available that can help reduce the costs of caring for aging parents. Medicaid, the Department of Welfare, or social service organizations can all provide financial assistance. By determining what financial options you have available, you avoid a lot of stress so you can focus on providing care for your family and getting things done at work.

Celebrate the small victories. Guilt is one of the most common feelings among caregivers. Many caregivers feel like they are not providing quality care. Many also feel guilty when they put the needs of their family or themselves before the care receiver. To cope with these feelings, you need to find ways to feel empowered. One of the ways you can do this is by celebrating the small victories. These could be as small as getting the kids to school on time, doing the dishes, responding to a few emails, or spending a few minutes talking with your parent about their needs. Getting those small, daily tasks done can help you feel accomplished and on top of things. Remember, your efforts matter and making your family feel safe, comfortable, and loved makes a huge difference. 

Being a caregiver for your aging parent is a rewarding experience that no amount of money can buy. But balancing your work and home life along with these responsibilities can get overwhelming. Figuring out your financial and employment options and getting organized can help you maintain a sense of normalcy and peace for you and your entire family.  

Do you have elderly family members, an aging parent or older adults in your life that need long-term care or need to be put in assisted living homes? Caring for aging parents and older adults isn't easy, especially for working mothers. How do you do it?