Working from home was a pipe dream a decade ago; something that many corporate types daydreamed of as they tried to decide whether they wanted to learn Tumblr or Weebly, Zoho or Google Docs. Today, according to Gallup, roughly two-thirds of all American businesses have at least one employee who has worked from home for at least part of the past year, and just over 40% of American workers have worked from home for some amount of time during the year.
This makes it easy to imagine a scenario in which a worker in their 40s or 50s might ask their boss to allow them to transfer into a majority or entirely-remote work schedule because they are looking for the time and presence necessary to provide care for their aging loved one. But working and caregiving simultaneously has its own set of complications and perils.
Defining the Home/Home/Home Balance
Working as a caregiver is a full-time proposition, especially if your honored elder needs help with basic Activities of Daily Life (ADLs) such as getting dressed or using the bathroom. But working from home as a worker is often also a full-time proposition, and in such circumstances, you find yourself always at home and with little time to manage your household. Finding the balance point between the three different kinds of work you need to do at home (without going crazy) is a delicate process.
Despite the challenges caring for an aging loved one while working from home and managing a household, there are some steps you can take to make the job easier:
- Take care of yourself first. If you are attempting to function when you are starving, dehydrated, sleep-deprived, or exhausted, call an audible and take 20 minutes to take care of yourself. Get a snack, take a nap, meditate, talk to your favorite person; unless your honored elder is in the middle of medical emergency, you can (and should) ask them to be patient and give yourself the tools to keep functioning.
- Commit to deciding, at each juncture in your day, what is most important and most urgent to do next. If something is not important, delegate or hire someone else to do it. If it is not urgent, set a reminder for yourself to get back to it later. If it is neither, do not even set a reminder; it will crop back up when it becomes either important or urgent. The important part here is to commit regularly to not doing things, because if you try to do everything, you will fail, and you will feel horrible about failing.
- Keep a gratitude journal. Nothing has ever been proven to help people turn discomfort into meaning more powerfully than gratitude. Training yourself to center on the things you are grateful for will do more to keep your head on straight and your heart in the right place than any amount of duty, filial piety, or even love for your honored elder.
Adding the Not-Home to the Balance
One of the biggest dangers of being a full-time-at-home caretaker is the tendency to go for days or even weeks at a time without ever really thinking about the larger world. The same is true of the person you are taking care of. Make it a habit to get both of you in touch with the outside world; and if your aging loved one cannot go out, get someone to come to you and bring the latest news and gossip (and maybe a spring roll from that shop on the corner).
Honored Elders Working from Home Too?
According to a Pew research study, almost every age group suffered from the Great Recession in terms of employment — except the elderly. The number of elderly workers (65 and older) went up as the economic catastrophe yanked the jobs out from under workers of less-than-retirement- age.
This is part of a larger trend as the percentage of working seniors has been on the rise since at least the turn of the century, with not even the slightest blip in that rise when the financial crisis struck. Furthermore, according to a study by AARP, upwards of a third of all senior workers working at least part-time do (or want to) work from home.
This can potentially open up a significant opportunity; to help your patient find meaning in their daily life by purposing their time. They do not have to literally work, like at a job for money. Just spending a couple of hours volunteering online to help children with their math homework through a website (there are several) can give them something to anticipate, to talk about later, and to derive meaning (and social connection) from. All of this is great for their health and well-being, and can serve to ease your caregiving burden at the same time.