If you are reading this, I feel confident stating that you are a caregiver. I also feel confident stating that many of you immediately just thought “No, I’m not. I don’t have (insert children, pets, spouse, ill parents).” Guess what - I said the same thing when I started working at Torchlight. I did not identify myself as part of the one in six people who are working caregivers in the United States. As I listen to people around me, I have realized that most of us do not identify with this label. Yet every single one of us is a caregiver. In reality, one in six is not truly reflective of the situation in the United States.
Baseball Mom. Marketing Executive.
I am a baseball mom. I spend, on average, 8-10 hours of my weekends sitting on a ball field from April through July. I am also a marketing executive responsible for knowing our market, competitive space, the needs of our customers and how to best translate our value proposition. A key component - regarding of how it is executed - is storytelling. Effective market growth involves connecting with other humans through our shared experiences. So, I am a manic listener. And while I listen wherever I go, ballfields are the ideal setting. All those hours I am surrounded by people who work inside the house and outside the house. They are male and female. Typically they are ages 33 - 65+. And we’re all telling the same story. We are busy, stressed and our families sometimes are baggage that follows us. And we’ll never not carry that beloved baggage with us.
I have two children, ages 12 and almost 16. I am an adult only-child of parents in their mid 70s. My husband, while only in his 50s, went through cancer treatment last Fall. Yet, until recently, I did not identify with being a caregiver. Why? As adults, we often feel that family demands “Just are.” “It’s the way life works.” “It’s my job as a parent.” “It’s my job as their kid.” Especially as a woman caring for our family, we just do it. We charge ahead each day and don’t stop to think of the overall impact on our life in totality. That said, I know that my husband carries concerns about us to work and has certainly stepped out for family related meetings.
Why am I a Caregiver?
There appears to be a stigma that “caregiver” equates to acute emergency or chronic severe conditions on either the child focused or elder care sides of life. I have a number of friends who must balance the care and education for children with Downs Syndrome, severe ADHD and autism diagnoses. I know too many elders with dementia and other challenging medical conditions. So, while my husband’s cancer treatment/recovery has been immensely challenging for us all, I have known it was temporary. Neither of my kids have “special challenges” as society defines. While I am witnessing my parents slow down, they are truly relatively healthy, and still come up once a week to see my kids. Emotionally, I have not felt that I have a right to feel as if I’m a challenged or stressed caregiver.
Yet every day, I walk into my office with my family on my shoulder. I am thinking of appointments I need to make, challenges with my teenager, social media bullying that I read on one of their phones or the long-term care discussion that I should have with my parents. I wonder if my husband’s local medical team has synced with the ones in Boston. I’m working off of a digital calendar that pings my laptop and phone, the Notes section on my iPhone and my ever loyal sticky notes that decorate my office and home. Leading our marketing efforts, I work hard and like to think of myself as a highly functioning employee. But if I am honest, there are days when my mind is elsewhere….back at home in my other full time job. At those times, I’m up at 3am the next day to catch up from the previous day’s lost time. It can become an exhausting cycle.
I am not Alone.
I am not alone or unusual. What I hear on the ballfields, in the food market, at school concerts and in office settings is this: Whether you are a Millennial, Gen X or Baby Boomer generation, you are caregiving. You’re taking care of kids in a new world of emotional demands and technology stress. You’re dealing with the sinking debt hitting your college aged children. You’re taking care of your grandkids after school, yet still working yourself due to the escalation of healthcare costs. You don’t know what to do with Mom’s living arrangement now that Dad died, especially due to her financial situation and being fairly healthy. Your brother is struggling with substance abuse. Your child has Executive Functioning issues, yet your school system will not listen. Your child’s weight continues to increase, as well as their moodiness, and you don’t know why. You are tired, stressed and trying to balance a thousand things in a week.
You don’t know what you don’t know. You often don’t know where to start.
Caregiving may be defined by Merriam-Webster as “a person who provides direct care (as for children, elderly people, or the chronically ill).” I disagree with this limiting definition and challenge the source. I am a caregiver every day for my family and I often need assistance. Perhaps one in six who are working are caring for extreme situations at any given time. However, I challenge you. Stop. Listen. Hear what people around you are saying. I promise you. You’ll realize that six out of six working individuals is a caregiver in some manner. You very likely are yourself.
What do you need?