♥ November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time set aside to recognize and champion unpaid family caregivers and the care they provide to loved ones. The distinction and annual theme, which this year is “Caregiving Around the Clock,” is organized by the Caregiver Action Network.
In Massachusetts, there are more than 844,000 unpaid family caregivers. Few understand family caregiving as much as Liz O’Donnell, a Massachusetts resident and author, speaker, and entrepreneur. O’Donnell is the founder of WorkingDaughter.com, a community for women balancing career and caregiving, and the founder of Rent-A-Sister, a company that provides support services to family caregivers. O’Donnell is the author of Mogul, Mom & Maid: The Balancing Act of the Modern Woman (Bibliomotion, 2013), a book that looks at the impact of women’s personal lives on their careers. She has written about the challenges of working daughters for numerous national publications including The Atlantic, Forbes, TIME, WBUR and PBS’ Next Avenue.
We are pleased to bring you the following column, written by O’Donnell exclusively for AARP Massachusetts in honor of National Family Caregivers Month. Check back often as we will be sharing additional columns about family caregiving by O’Donnell from Working Daughter.com.
In the summer of 1989, I graduated from college, wrote my first resume, bought a double-breasted, Jones New York suit, and started looking for a job. I imagined a successful career ahead of me – one that would bring me professional satisfaction and a big salary to match. I had no idea that I would one-day work three jobs at the same time, but only get paid for one. Nor did I anticipate, that the two unpaid jobs would negatively impact how much I earned at the one job that delivered a paycheck.
I hadn’t yet read Arlie Russell Hochschild’s book, The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, which was hitting the shelves at the same time I was looking for work. The Second Shift examines the impact of women handling the crux of household chores despite their increased participation in the labor force. And I had not yet heard the phrase eldercare or imagined it was something I would ever do. But working three jobs while only getting paid for one is the reality of millions of working mothers who are also working daughters. And more and more, it’s becoming the reality for working fathers and sons too.
More than forty million people are caring for an aging or ill family member or friend. They’re not just working a second shift running households and raising children, they’re working a third shift too, caring for aging parents. And yet there are still only 24 hours in a day, only seven days in a week. But somehow they are logging an estimated 37 billion hours collectively assisting adult relatives or close friends. And they’re still getting paid only for the shift they work out of the home — even though the work they do for their families requires advanced job skills. Caregivers aren’t just doing light housework and driving their parents to doctor’s appointments. No, in many cases, they’re actually performing complex nursing tasks like wound care, injections and medication management.
“Up until my father passed away this summer, I was a full time employee, a full time mother, and a full time caregiver to my elderly father. I woke at 6 a.m. to get my kids to school. I started working before 8 and usually finished around 7 o’clock in the evening. Somewhere in those 11 hours I snuck out of the office and visited with my father and dealt with his medical needs and insurance claims. When I went to bed, I put my iPhone under my pillow; I never wanted to miss a middle-of-the-night emergency call.”
November is National Family Caregivers Month, a time to acknowledge the work of unpaid caregivers. Appropriately, the theme of the month this year is “Caregiving Around the Clock,” and that is exactly what the legions of unpaid family caregivers do. Up until my father passed away this summer, I was a full time employee, a full time mother, and a full time caregiver to my elderly father. I woke at 6 a.m. to get my kids to school. I started working before 8 and usually finished around 7 o’clock in the evening. Somewhere in those 11 hours I snuck out of the office and visited with my father and dealt with his medical needs and insurance claims. When I went to bed, I put my iPhone under my pillow; I never wanted to miss a middle-of-the-night emergency call.
And I was one of the lucky ones. I have a flexible, white-collar job. My father had a decent pension and insurance to cover his expenses. I have family nearby and access to a support network. It was never easy working the first, second, and third shift, but it was possible for me. For others, it’s much more difficult.
Too many family caregivers do not have the support required to log three shifts. More than 60 percent of caregivers have to make adjustments at work to accommodate caregiving. They might ask for a position with less responsibility, take a leave of absence, reduce their hours or quit altogether. Those who do leave the workforce, lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in salary and benefits over their lifetime.
It’s high time we start supporting working caregivers. As a United Nations report pointed out, the work of caring “makes all other work possible.” Legislators and business leaders must work together to provide flexible work schedules, paid leave and sick time so caregivers can remain on the first shift, while still handling the second and third. If we don’t, how will we afford to care for the caregivers when they retire – from all of their shifts?
Liz O’Donnell is the founder of WorkingDaughter.com, a community for women balancing career and caregiving. She also runs Rent-A-Sister, a company that provides strategic, tactical and emotional support to family caregivers.
Learn more about the Caregiving resources available from AARP at our Caregiving Resource Center.