Women are torn in plenty of directions these days. Back in the naive 1970s, we were told that we could have it all. Raising families, beautiful homes, active in the community, working full-time in a satisfying career ... But it hasn't panned out that way for most.
The only kind of "having it all" some of us carry is all the guilt, all the stress, and all the exhaustion in all their possible forms. Hold down a job. Raise your kids. Oh, and don't forget to take care of your aging parents. Didn't you know? You're supposed to be able to handle it all.
But we can't. The more things we try to encompass, the more we need to streamline or risk bursting asunder.
The U.S. Census Bureau reported that 44 million Americans are unpaid providers of eldercare, according to The Atlantic. And most of these are women.
More than 60 million families need caregivers for disabled or elderly members. Women make up 80 to 90 percent of these caregivers, according to Forbes.
Family Caregiver Alliance reported that 65 percent of those needing long-term eldercare get it solely from their family and friends. Thirty percent have paid providers, mixed with care by family members.
Half of those needing long-term eldercare are in nursing homes because there is nobody else to take care of them. But out of those who have a family caregiver, only 7 percent of them are institutionalized.
The effects of long-term unpaid caregiving can be widespread and life-changing. It's not unusual for women in such a position to make job changes. They may have to switch from full-time to part-time jobs, or find different work that makes room for their parental duties. Not their duty as parents, their duty to parents.
They may have to take vacation time, paid or otherwise, and sometimes they'll have to quit their jobs, either because they can't make their time stretch enough, or because the stress has become too much to handle.
Paychecks shrink, become less frequent, or disappear. Benefits like health insurance, and retirement savings are at risk.
About 20 percent of all American working women are caregivers for family members. Of all caregivers, FCA said that 66 percent are women.
The average profile is one of a married, working woman in her late 40s, managing her own household and also caring for her mother who lives in her own home. Women who are caregivers will spend twice as much time caregiving as their male counterparts.
On average, women in their 40s are making less than their male counterparts. Less than half of these women will hold on to their jobs during their caregiving years.
A woman in this situation is often in the middle of her working life. If she is also raising children, she is now part of the sandwich generation, responsible for two generations.
If she has to gear down, or walk away from the working world, the odds that she will be able to walk back in at say, age 50, and make good wages in a good job are not good.
Taking care of someone else in their old age can mean for many women that they will not be able to care for themselves in their own.
What's a woman to do?
Speak up. If there are other family members who are not sharing the load, talk to them. You may not be comfortable with this, but it is reasonable and it is right. Tell them what it costs you, financially, emotionally, time-wise and every other way. Expect a response.
Where the caregiver is bearing a financial burden, Forbes recommends a caregiver contract whenever possible. An elder law attorney can draw up an agreement for compensation for the caregiver. This can be in the form of monthly payments, or a bigger portion of the inheritance.
If there are things your siblings can do, let them know specifically. Even people who are not living in the area can help in this day of instant communication, internet payments and the like. Perhaps one can handle oversight of prescriptions and medication. Get creative. Get some pressure off.
Not every situation is going to have wiggle room. Sometimes there is no money. Other family members may not be able to help. Or they may not choose to help. But if you don't talk to them, you have a much higher chance of continuing to carry the burdens alone.
Sometimes friends are a better bet than family. Don't hesitate to lean on them. If you don't have any friends you can count on, look for groups and forums that offer support to kind and giving people like you. Find out more here.
Reviewed November 2, 2016
by Michele Blacksberg RN
The Crisis Facing America's Working Daughters. Theatlantic.com. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2016.
Who Are the Caregivers? Caregiver.org. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2016.
Is Caring For Aging Parents Unfair to Women? Forbes.com. Retrieved Nov. 1, 2016.
Support Groups. AgingCare.com. Retrieved Nov. 2, 2016.