Becoming a parent is like experiencing one of the most exhilarating and terrifying thrill rides of your life. But when that milestone coincides with caring for an aging parent while managing a demanding career, there’s no guide book to turn to, no one-size-fits-all solution.
This all-too-common challenge will sound familiar to many Gen Xers today and will be for many more in the years ahead. I know this struggle firsthand: When I was about three months pregnant with my first child, my mother suffered a debilitating stroke. Although she survived, the damage was severe. Today, she lives in a nursing home and is confined to a wheelchair. She is unable to communicate, which is by far the most challenging part of our new reality.
Six months later, when I gave birth to my daughter, I found myself simultaneously caring for my newborn as well as my mother. There were doctor’s appointments to schedule, caregivers to coordinate and, of course, the now daily game of charades we played to decipher both her complex emotions and most basic human needs, all without the benefit of language. Then, there was work. As someone who had always put my work first, I knew I didn’t want my career to take a backseat, so I had to figure out a way to juggle all my new responsibilities without losing myself or my sanity in the process.
This is definitely a challenge for new moms and caretakers. The Family and Medical Leave Act guarantees 12 weeks of maternity leave for birth or adoption or to care for a sick parent, but that leave is unpaid and only applies to companies that employ more than 50 people. That means that for the more than one in 10 parents who are also caring for a parent of their own, balancing that with work is a daunting puzzle to solve.
It’s not easy, and no one prepares you for it, but here’s what I have learned (and am still learning).
Be your own best advocate
Moms are amazing, and companies need to figure out a way to keep more of them employed after having kids. If there’s something you need to do to manage your family or personal obligations, figure out a way to do it. In 2019, thinking about work is rarely confined to business hours. If you share a mutual respect with your agency’s leadership and clients, they should trust you to make the decisions necessary for yourself and the company. The two don’t have to be at odds.
Learn to delegate
No one knows how to do your job better than you, but that doesn’t mean you have to do everything yourself. Since my daughter was born, I’ve learned how to let others take the lead. I trust my team to handle some big meetings and productions, and my wife (who previously didn’t cook much) started sharing meal duties. I just needed to let go and embrace that my way is not the only way.
Communicate at home
When you’re juggling long hours, doctor’s appointments, work travel and childcare needs, shared calendars are a godsend. My wife and I overcommunicate about our work and personal responsibilities. When we have conflicts, we have honest conversations about whose business trip or client dinner is more critical this time.
Create space for laughter
As a new mom, I am now defined and confined by schedules and structure more than ever before. And that can be stressful, which is why it’s even more important to carve out opportunities for play, laughter and creativity. Whether you’re in the workplace or trying to make the most of your family prep time on a weekend, don’t schedule every hour, and remember that laughter is always the best medicine.
Let work and life blend together
People rave about compartmentalizing their work and personal life, but I’d argue it doesn’t work, nor does it have to. I’ve had many of my best ideas at the grocery store on the weekend or nursing my baby at 3 a.m. I don’t shut my brain off when I go home, just like I don’t shut out thoughts of my daughter or my mother when I’m at work. If I have to step out of a meeting to take a call from a doctor, I do. And after I put my daughter to bed at night, I often spend an hour or two on work. There may be a finite number of hours in the day, but there’s flexibility in how you use them.
We put a lot of thought into how we’ll care for our children, but we don’t always do the same when it comes to our parents. As scary as it is, it’s a reality many of us will have to face. I still struggle every day to find time for my daughter, my mother, my work, my marriage and myself. But with trust and good communication—and a lot of yoga—I’ve found that I’m strong enough to manage whatever comes my way. At least most days.