The headline was striking for a story about women caring for their parents. Even more striking was a quote within the article from a woman who was once a paralegal but dropped that career in order to take care of her mother who has Alzheimer’s disease. She has taken less demanding jobs so that she can be there for her mother. She told the reporter,”I lost ten years of my life. What’s going to happen to me?” A project officer for the Centers for Disease in Atlanta who cared for her mother who has dementia until she was able to get her on Medicaid told the reporter, “Caregivers are physically and mentally and financially dying.”
There can be no doubt that caring for a parent is challenging. However, the article, in its attempt to paint such a hopeless picture for both parent and caregiver neglected to discuss the benefits of the role.
The Barometer had a technician who made and polished hard contacts for her for decades. These skilled individuals are tough to come by in this era of soft lenses and laser corrective surgery. Suddenly, he was no longer at his business. He shut it down for years. When he returned to his business, he explained that he took over caring for his father. He said it was difficult to walk away from a business that could no longer run because he was the nucleus of the operation. But he added, “I would never trade the time that I had with my dad. We developed a great relationship during his last years. I didn’t have that before.” He also explained that after his father died, he came back to his business and was pleasantly surprised by the loyalty of all his ophthalmologists and customers who returned to him for their hard contact lens needs. He was in his tennis shorts that day and explained that he learned through his experience in caring for his father that he could take a little time for himself. He said he had barely visited his father for years before he assumed the role of caregiver. He said that his business was not only back, but better. So also was his life. His experience has been stuck in the Barometer’s mind for nearly ten years. He gave a profound lesson on choices and life.
Nearly all of us have faced or will be caregivers in some form for our parents. Our lives will change in stepping up; new challenges, including job, career, and lifestyle changes will be part of that. However, the Times article presented those challenges as something that no one should face. Worse, the article fell into the either/or conundrum that we use to avoid doing the right thing. Under the either/or conundrum decisions are based on assumed outcomes. Either I find someone else to care for my parent or my career, financial security, and/or life are over. They either/or conundrum commits the ultimate flaw in logic — it assumes the outcome. What the article did not cover are the stories of those who have been caregivers and who can look back, their parents now gone, and realize the impact and importance of stepping up when it was terribly inconvenient, financially draining, and physically exhausting. Those stories could inspire, reassure, and provide perspective on priorities. Funny, how about a description of parenthood? Financially draining, physically exhausting, mentally frustrating, and offering little in the way of career advancement. But, these dear parents did it anyway.