Balancing Care: Nurturing Yourself and Others in the Caregiving Journey
Co-Founder of H3 HR Advisors and Program Chair, HR Technology Conference
CEO and Principal Analyst, H3 HR Advisors
About this episode
Balancing Care: Nurturing Yourself and Others in the Caregiving Journey
This episode of At Work in America is sponsored by Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement, and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. After years of being in survival mode amidst a global pandemic, HR leaders have been challenged to get back to business — ushering in the era of the dynamic workplace. In our 7th Annual Pulse of HR Report, find out how these leaders are optimizing the work experience regardless of where it’s done, addressing widening generational gaps, and increasing productivity not just for their employees, but also themselves. Visit paychex.com/awia to check it out, today.
This week we met with Liz O’Donnell from Working Daughter to talk about the transition women are now making as they learn to care for aging parents.
– Taking care of yourself, while taking care of others
– Advice for new caregivers
– What organizations are doing to support employees in caregiving situations
Thank you for joining the show today! Remember to subscribe wherever you get your podcasts!
Welcome to At Work in America, sponsored by Paychex. At Work in America digs in behind the headlines and trends to the stories of real people making a difference in the world of work. And now here are your hosts, Steve Boese and Trish Steed.
Welcome back to the At Work in America show, we have a great show today. We are going to be welcoming in a moment, Liz O’Donnell from Working Daughter to talk about caregiving, and making that transition in managing work and caring for aging parents at the same time, which is a huge issue. And I know Trish is excited to talk about that issue as well. You’re sort of getting into that space, maybe a little too. Trish, how are you today?
I’m good. And yes, I think this is something that I am personally starting to experience. So I’m excited just personally to get some tips and tricks and techniques. And but I think it’s a topic that’s really important, obviously to the wider listening audience, both professionally and personally.
It’s a great topic. We have not looked back. We haven’t talked about this in ages on the show. So we’re glad we’re covering it now. Just before we welcome Liz let’s thank our friends at Paychex. Of course this episode of At Work in America is sponsored by our friends at Paychex, one of the leading providers of HR, payroll, retirement and insurance solutions for businesses of all sizes. I’m excited we have a family member kind of person, Trish I won’t name her, but on boarded on a new job a summer job and was excited to find out Paychex is her payroll provider. She’s like using the Paychex app, she did her onboarding through Paychex. I heard very, very good things from her personally about that experience. So shout out to our friends that Paychex.
You know, I love that too. Because we always wonder how this up and coming generation of workers is experiencing not just technology in general but HR technologies. And yes to hear someone with an unsolicited opinion about you know, a company that we feel is doing really great things. That was a definite plus.
That was good. Thanks to our friends at Paychex of course. Okay, let’s welcome our guest Liz O’Donnell is the founder of Working Daughter, which supports women balancing eldercare, career and more. An award winning writer, her book, Working Daughter a guide to caring for your aging parents while earning a living was named one of the best books of the year by Library Journal. In 2020. She launched National Working Daughter’s day, a longtime marketing executive and working mother. She is active in our community and committed to supporting other women. Liz, welcome to the show today. How are you?
Liz O’Donnell 2:45
I’m excellent. And I’m always happy when people shine a light on this topic that a lot of people don’t want to talk about. So thank you
know, our pleasure. I think we need to talk about it boy, trash. I think you from some of the stories I’ve heard from you off the air. Yeah, they’re you go Yeah, I’m we’re joking slightly. And you’re not exactly doing caregiving right now. But you do have some some aging parents, and you’re in this this group with so many other working women and working people right now.
Yes. You know, Liz, what I would just love to start off with is for you to tell us a little bit about how this became such an important topic to you. And, Steve, to your point, it is something that while you might not be full on and caregiving, it’s certainly in our generation, something that you are definitely talking about definitely trying to prepare yourself and your parents and we’re grandparents for right many of us are caring for two generations older than us. So yes, Liz, we’d love to just kind of kick it off with your story and how this became such an important topic for you.
Liz O’Donnell 3:51
Absolutely. And I will just say off the top though there are 40% of the family caregivers are working sons, so I don’t want to exclude them. I just focus on right for women. But there are a lot of men out there doing the same thing too. And it started because it happened to me. I was working in a marketing agency. So you know, billable hours, client demands deadlines, had two young kids middle school and elementary maybe. And as a working mother, you think you’re so busy, and all of a sudden, it was just busier and busier. And you don’t really know why and what was happening was what I call the caregiver creep. That happens to so many people, which is your aging parents just start to need a little bit more and a little bit more from you know, go down on Saturday and mow the lawn then they stopped driving then it’s trips to the grocery store in the doctor’s appointment and sorting the pills in the plastic box every Sunday night and it’s just it’s something that you haven’t made room for in your life that you don’t even sort of realize is happening because you’re just going along being a good daughter, right? You’re not identifying as Oh, and now I’m an elder care provider. And so I went along like that until there was a crisis call, which is also a very common entry point. And for me that crisis call resulted in both of my parents being diagnosed with terminal illnesses on the exact same day one was in one hospital. One was in the other hospital, I get from one doctor appointment. Before I even left the parking lot of that appointment where I heard my dad had Alzheimer’s, I got a call from another hospital where my mom had been rushed with some stomach pain to find out it was stage four ovarian cancer. So I went from busy working mother with this caregiving creep kind of making me you know, more and more stressed, more and more cranky. To, like full on chaos, like, what do I do now? And so I vowed when I got to the other side of it, that no one would be as alone and as unprepared as I felt in that moment.
Yeah, that’s, I didn’t realize that part of the backstory. I think that too, like, it’s bad enough sort of having that creep, which which we all sort of are getting used to, because that happens slowly over time. But you’re right, having a crisis moment, let alone to and, and to be quite frank, I mean, I’ve had people close to me with with Alzheimer’s, who, that’s a whole nother level of care, right, trying to maybe when someone has good physical ability, still, but certainly not the mental capacity. Right. So you are dealing with two very different types of illness as well.
Liz O’Donnell 6:28
Right. And so yeah, so I would say so for the next six months after that day, in my life, it was just, you know, as I said, chaos, I prefer term hell, right, where it was like sorting through pills and bills. And, you know, do they have wills and talking to two sets of doctors and trying to understand these diagnoses? And what’s the trajectory going to be, and looking for a memory care facility because my, you know, now my mom is going to be dying in a few months, she opted not to be treated. And my dad has, you know, the early stages of this dementia, and so he’s not going home. And so where do they live and, you know, signing expensive leases at living facilities. And the, well, there were many difficult things, I’m prone to say the hardest thing was this. And the hardest thing was this, depending on what I’m talking about, but one of the hardest things was, I was the breadwinner in our family, my husband and I had an arrangement, he was a stay at home dad, which was, as you can imagine, in this scenario, both a blessing and a curse the blessing, then I had a great support at home that a lot of working women don’t, they are the support at home. The curse was as difficult as it was to show up for work, not just the logistics, but that was, you know, a challenge is getting to work was a challenge in these months, but caring about work, you know, truly facing life or death. And now I’m in these leadership team calls talking, talking about like, you know, strategic paradigms and parallel up, and I’m like, people are dying. But I couldn’t not earn. So that was a huge challenge.
Were there are things that, you know, maybe you couldn’t really bring to work. Can you talk about what was happening at home with your parents? Can you bring that to work? Were you in a situation where you felt supported? Or was it just you needed to make sure you did your 40 plus hours every week? Got your billable hours? In all the things in time? Did you have to keep everything separate at that time?
Liz O’Donnell 8:22
I absolutely love that question. I did not feel like I could bring it to work, I actually had a very supportive boss, our company was actually built and founded because she needed flexibility to care for a mother with cancer. So you would have thought I could have and maybe I could have, but I didn’t feel that way. They were new people in the company. You know, there was some competent internal competition for who’s sitting at the leadership team table. So I felt very vulnerable for the first time, you know, I was always sort of a gold star, get great reviews type of employee. And now all of a sudden, I am on you know, shaky ground that was new in my career. So there was that, I also knew that the supportive boss would have told me to take a leave of absence and as the primary breadwinner without a paid leave policy, I was terrified that she would say that cuz she was right, I probably should have taken a leave of absence, but I couldn’t not get paid. So luckily, I was able to, you know, string together this amazing and crazy flexible schedule. So there was that, but then there was, you know, we were in a company, a small company, about half of us were over the age of 40, and half of us were under the age of 30. And so those under the age of 30. This is not anything they had ever thought about imagined or faced yet. And so Liz went from, you know, the dependable good worker to that person who’s always leaving flaking, taking personal calls at work, and I just really didn’t feel like the workplace was the place to talk about, you know, disease dying dementia depends. And I still don’t think that you know, I mean, when someone As a baby, right, and they work, people want to see the pictures and they might have a poll, you know, to, to raise money or, you know, have some competition around the size of the baby and when they’re born and maybe throw a shower. These just aren’t topics you talked about before.
I have so many questions, obviously, like writing frantically, Liz, I think the one thing that strikes me too, that maybe you can talk a little bit about is, you know, not only when you’re a working parent, right, you’re already caring for young ones of whatever age is you’re starting to care for your elder parents and your grandparents. It’s a time of life, especially I don’t want to exclude the men because you did mention, I’m glad you mentioned that, that many men are facing these issues too. But as a woman, you’re also starting to go into potentially menopause yourself, right? So your body, and you are going through changes, which also is a very stressful time of life. Working anyway. Right? So trying to balance your own hormones and moods and all of those things. Stress of any kind does not aid in that endeavor. Could you talk a little bit either personally or from you know, women now that you’ve, you’ve talked with over the years of having this as a topic? Like, does that really come into play to sort of not taking care of yourself? When you’re trying to take care of everyone else? How does that impact this whole scenario?
Liz O’Donnell 11:30
Yeah, it’s a huge impact. And you know, where else I think it impacts women is not just in the workplace, but in advocating and dealing with the medical personnel as well. You know, I was showing up to advocate for my parents. And, you know, I got my MD at Google, I kind of know what I’m talking about. But I’m showing up in that entire this all because you know, the got those calls are those two appointments happened in the summer. So that entire summer I was showing up with you know, wet hair pulled back into a ponytail, barely any makeup, if I had a client come in, you know, I might put on a little mascara, pretty much yoga pants and a shirt because I wasn’t that busy, I had a spread an Excel spreadsheet that tracked everything I needed to do. And at its height, it had 196 items on it. So wake up in the morning and have that Oh, no moments, you know what I remember what was happening in my life, I’d open that spreadsheet and and highlight the things that had to happen that day. So I mean, it wasn’t just, you know, not eating healthy it was I really felt I didn’t have the time to shower. And if I didn’t shower, because he kind of have to, you know, there was no time to get dressed to dry my hair. So you’re showing up in these professional situations where you need to have some sense of authority, and you just look like and for me, I felt like this middle aged, grumpy woman who was like, whose career was like crumbling before eyes. I used to show up, you know, in a suit and feel confident. And now I was existing on you know, wake up and start drinking coffee and go to the office are stressed and need more caffeine because it wasn’t sleeping well. So then it’s Diet Coke. And then it was the vending machine because it was no time for lunch. So yeah, the end and the distraction. So yeah, it’s very concerning. And the average family caregiver is a woman she is in her late 40s, early 50s. So this is a time when a lot is happening for us, right? We are you know, potentially facing menopause or perimenopause, we are in those Max earning years where where I was acutely aware if I stepped out, was anybody going to bring me back? Does anybody care if the 50 Something woman comes back to the office or not? So there are all of these things that were at least for me, were playing in my head and I see it play out we have a community of you know, 10,000 women who are in a Facebook group private Facebook group where they can just lean on each other share stories know that they’re not alone. And we hear this play out quite a bit these concerns.
Yeah. And at the same time, right. You may be in your case, I think you you weren’t as you mentioned, you’ve got your own children, right, your own things going on with them and go maybe they’re going through high school or getting into you they’re doing all their activities and whether it’s sports or arts or who knows what right because we we’ve also been through that right where once you got a couple of kids who are you running around all over town, right trying to help them right at the same time. So that real they call the squeeze or the sandwich device maybe is a better analogy.
Liz O’Donnell 14:32
Any sandwich right?
What’s happening to caregivers in this situation is a very real thing. Ah, do I think maybe then we talked a little bit about your experience at the job you had then in what you were able to maybe to bring to that to the workplace, what was happening in your in your personal life with the caregiving situation. What are what are some things whether it’s tips, advice, I know I’m certain the book talks about this. What can we do to try to help I’ll advocate for ourselves, perhaps maybe that will start there. Because it sounds like to me, people are in this situation, who want to still, you know, keep that career going and want to achieve want to succeed want to be there for their for their work, what are some of the things you can do to try to begin to bring some sense of management to this chaos?
Liz O’Donnell 15:19
Yeah, great, great question. And I think caregiving isn’t our eldercare isn’t always the time to achieve at work. But it is certainly I mean, unless your retirement is set for, you know, to live to 90 or 103, which we’re doing now. And it’s definitely the time to stay in the game, I you know, I worry about women who do step out, I understand why they want to I did, but until unless we’re set for that retirement in our own long term care, you know, I really encourage women to stay and even if it looks messy, like it didn’t before, but it may not be the time to achieve. And maybe it is, but if you’re in you know, one of those sort of acute situations with the chaos that I was talking about, then I think it’s okay to recognize that sometimes we do our most important work outside of the office, you know, and outside of our professional lives. And that’s okay, and we are probably in it for the long haul. And people are working longer, we do have second and third act. So don’t beat yourself up. If your career isn’t looking the way it did. But don’t give up. I think one of the messages I always give to women is don’t consider your life on hold. I hear this all the time, like Oh, my life as I knew it is over my careers. I knew it is older, you know. But that danger of waiting until I became a caregiver four times over. So if any one of those moments I had stepped out of the workplace, I shudder to think where I would be now. So there are a few things we can do to get organized around caregiving. Because it’s likely inevitable for most people, we live in this rapidly aging society where 10,000 people are turning 65 Every single day.
Liz O’Donnell 16:52
So if you can get organized around, I say these three categories medical, financial, and living, then you’re ahead of the game. And if you’re already in it, and you haven’t, don’t despair, lots of people come into this in the middle of a crisis, and they figure it out. So I don’t but for those who are looking at it, it’s starting. They have parents, if I have some checklists, so if you can, you know, understand your parents finances, start to have those conversations know that there’s a power of attorney, maybe get a cosigner on their checks and know what their passwords are and their assets, because caregiving and aging are expensive. So that’s one bucket. The next is around the medical, you know, do you know who your parents primary cares are? Do you know, if they’re seeing specialists do you know their you know, have a list of their medications, and ideally, why they’re taking them, you’re going to be way ahead of the game, have a health care proxy, and if you can have a conversation with your parents about not just their end of life wishes, you know, we always used to talk about the DNR, the Do Not Resuscitate as sort of a yes, no, but now there are these advanced directives that your parents or you can fill out with your primary care, like if I needed to what I wanted to if I needed oxygen when I need oxygen, having those conversations before the crisis just give you such a better sense. And I know a lot of people find these conversations daunting and scary. And our parents don’t want to have them. I tell people to view it almost like you’d view going in and asking for a raise. Like we’d never, I don’t think we should expect to go in and say Hey, boss, I want 10%.
Liz O’Donnell 18:32
And the boss says, okay, Liz, you’re like, well, here’s what’s going on with the company. And I’d like you to come back and share with me why and it’s a, it’s a series of conversations, the same thing has to happen with their elderly parents, because not all of them are in the mindset that they want to think about end of life, but it’s truly a gift when you can. And then the third bucket for preparation, I would say is around housing, because so many people get to caregiving go to move their parents into some kind of senior living facility and are shocked that most senior living arrangements or private pay, I guess we just sort of go along. We don’t talk about this enough. And I don’t know we just think it’s subsidized by the government or elves or I don’t know who but so much of you know, assisted living, and memory care, that’s private pay, and it’s really expensive, and understanding which facilities provide what kind of care or what it takes to age at home. So I think prepare in those three areas and then on the workplace, I’d say you know, if you don’t work in a team, can you find a way to start you know, building a team at work so that there’s always some someone see seed net, this is a tiny thing, but never save anything on your personal hard drive, put it in the Google Drive or the company’s server work so that you might get an emergency call, and then make it easy for your co workers to have your back.
I love all of those tips. There are many that I hadn’t even begun to consider, so thank you for, for that. One question that kind of popped in my mind as you were going through those lists is, you know, I was talking to a friend of mine recently who’s taking care of someone who’s elderly and starting to have medical nothing terminal, but definitely where this person feels like they have to care for their parents that 24/7. And my question is, and I don’t want this to sound mean, but many of us are from a generation where we were raised kind of on our own, like, go outside play, keep yourself busy. Our parents were not all about us, necessarily. They weren’t there caring for us, like we now care for our children, right? They’re not there to hold our hand every minute. My question is this I struggle with this. I love my parents dearly. But there’s part of me where I struggle, like, wait a minute, I didn’t get constant care, right? As I was growing up, I kind of took care of myself quite a bit. And now why is it that I’m feeling pressured to care for you, personally, me care for you, at all times. And when I was talking with this person, this is where I’d love your perspective. This person felt like he had to personally care for his mother in her situation. And I said, I think as a child of someone who’s going through these things, it’s certainly right to maybe arrange care, but you don’t have to personally provide the care. So I’d love to get your perspective on that. I feel like that’s where I’m sort of building in my own life is, I’m here to make sure my parents have care. Some of it will come from me. Some of it will not come from Me because they’re not my children. Right. So like, where do you stand on that? What do you tell people?
Liz O’Donnell 21:59
This is the best question of the year, I am glad you went there. And that’s part of why I created Working Daughter is because when I was going through it, so my crisis happened in 2014. And when I would Google, you know, for help and support the other caregiving websites, I describe them as they were all unicorns and butterflies. And even if you look at it, do a Google search for like elder care or older woman, and you know, adult daughter, they are the images that the marketing and the media serve up around this topic are all just like, that whole concept of like, what a blessing to care for those who care to you what a blessing and I was gonna put in my mind, I’m like, It’s hell, it’s a burden. It’s hard. And I quickly learned that you never use the burden V word that was like the worst thing you could say. And so then you start to internalize, I started to think I was the only one who had these logical, you know, thought processes, like you just described. And then that just adds to this immense guilt, like, I must be the only monster who’s thinking this way. So that’s my stance on this is that caregiving is a choice. And sometimes people who are going through caregiving in our own community get upset with me when I say that, you know, like, Liz, you think I chose for my mother to have stage four cancer and my dad, you know, be diagnosed with dementia on the same day? Of course, not. Nobody chooses, you know, to see people in their own families and circles go through these things. However, showing up for them is a choice.
Liz O’Donnell 23:36
And I think that’s important for two reasons. One, for those who do choose to show up, there’s so much we can’t get to as caregivers, because we have our own lives because we haven’t made space for this because we have to go to work. Because you know, our society hasn’t caught up with the needs of an aging society. Inevitably, we’re going to feel like we’re not doing a great job. So rather than sort of go to bed every night, and if you’re, you know, a woman of my age, you’re waking up at 2am. And you know, the thought spiral is gloom and doom. Rather than spend that time think about everything you didn’t do when you frame caregiving as a choice. Maybe you change that conversation in your head too. But I did this, and I did this. So that’s one reason I think it’s so important for him is choice. The second is we have something on the working daughter website we call the working daughter Bill of Rights. And it says nowhere is it written that someone else’s life is more important than your own. So our parents assuming no sound mind and no cognitive decline because that’s a that’s a different scenario. They made choices right? They made choices that got them where the to where they were in the world, then we have a choice. How we respond to that. You know, oftentimes we have parents who say, You who clearly are not able to keep up with say homeownership, right and living in a large home going up two flights of stairs driving anymore, whatever it might be. but they’re not having any other help, they only want daughter, and they’re not moving into one of those senior living facilities, that is their choice. Again, assuming no cognitive decline, they’re making that sound mind choice. So as the daughter or son, we then get to choose how we respond to that. Well, okay, mom, but I’m not taking you to the grocery store every week, you know, I’ll help you set up Peapod or Instacart, or whatever it is today, right? But you are making a choice. And I get to respond to that choice. I think it’s really, really healthy. And really, really important because our lives value or you know, our value as well. So why would we have our lives collapse? Because someone else is making choices just because they happen to be over the age of 75, or 80, right. And then we decide how we want to be as a daughter or a son. And it may end up that we want to do everything possible to make, you know, support their lives. And then that’s a choice as opposed to assured. I think that’s really important.
Thank you for saying that. I feel like you’re my therapist, because I do feel better. I mean, you hit it, you hit on the guilt, you hit on the capability to like, I think that you know if I think the reverse if I think about my children who are now in college, but even when they were little, you know, if your child is struggling at school, in chemistry, and you don’t understand chemistry, you don’t know chemistry, your job isn’t to teach yourself chemistry to teach your child chemistry, right? We wouldn’t even do that. That sounds silly. We would go find a tutor, right? So I sort of am trying to walk myself through feeling like, okay, just because they need care of a certain kind, like you give the Instacart example or, and maybe it’s something else, maybe it’s someone to come in and see them and visit with them or whatever, right. So I think it’s one thing to give yourself permission to help arrange care, but you don’t have to personally be the caregiver or 24/7. And I think that’s where I’m hearing people my age struggle, right, because you feel like oh, well.
Liz O’Donnell 27:05
We’re also often not qualified. And one of the other heartbreaking things you hear often is the daughter or the son who says, I just want to be the daughter or the son again. But there’s no time. Because if you’re working five days a week, and you have kids who are going to all the activities that you mentioned, Steve, and then you go to visit parents, because you want to visit your parents, because you want to still have that, you know, adult child parent relationship, but you have to run the errands, clean their apartment, do the small, you know, medical tasks, sometimes it’s the more you know, you’re providing a better quality of care. Sometimes when you do bring in outside options. I always say that, you know, try to approach it with equal parts courage and compassion. Right? The fashion understand that this is happening to your parent and aging is scary, but the courage to say, Okay, and here’s what I think is the best situation.
Was that a question? Which is, you know, you maybe you can educate us? And then maybe sort of give your opinion as well, which is, what, what are organizations doing more broadly? What are they doing? Or what should they be doing? And support employees who are in these situations, these caregiving situations? Are there formal benefits that are carved out? Are there policies that are being created for this? Should there be like what’s happening at the the organizational level, because that’s often what we talk a lot about on the show is what companies are doing to respond to, whether it’s diversity initiatives, whether it’s, you know, recruiting from underserved communities, whether it’s getting veterans back to work, things like that we do take an organizational lens through a lot of these topics, I’d love for you to comment a little bit about what companies or organizations are doing.
Liz O’Donnell 28:49
I’ll start with my opinion, because clearly, I have plenty. You said should organizations be helping? Yes, I think they should. Because caregivers are the fastest growing employee group. And it’s not just that woman in her late 40s or 50s. anymore. 25% of all family caregivers are millennials. So more and more people are coming to this sooner and are likely to do it more than once you know that you think of your in laws, you think of divorce and step parents so you know, we’re more likely to go through it multiple times. So yes, I think they should, what are companies doing? So across the board, we’re seeing mostly, you know, flexibility and that is the number one request of caregivers. You know, the flexibility to change your hours to work from home to have hybrid situations. I know that that conversation is blowing up right now in the news of companies that are requiring people to return to work but think about the caregiver in that scenario. So flexibility is the number one request and probably the number one. I guess support that you see companies offering caregivers, more and more companies are offering like He’s caregiver concierge services through their benefits packages, which I think are fantastic companies like wealthy is one, where you go to HR, you say, you know, mom, dad need more help, I don’t know what to do. And they will through the benefits package, hook you up with a care concierge, and that person helps you find a home health aide and figure out, you know, the best prices for the supplies that you need. And I think those services are fantastic.
Liz O’Donnell 30:27
We just at Working Daughter, we just surveyed our community. And we had about, say, close to 800 people respond. Flexibility was their number one request. And the other thing in the top three that I thought was interesting was financial planning. So caregiving is expensive, and helped me employer, figure out how to pay for the care that I need to find for my parents, and then help me think about it for me, because when I retire, you know, it’s going to happen for me. So I thought that was a really interesting item to float to the top three helped me with financial planning, but also these care, concierge support services. And then seeing companies do, you know, all kinds of interesting things like have home or home living assessments. So my mom does want to age at home. And my company pays for someone to go into her home and say, Okay, we need to add a ramp here or widen the doors for a wheelchair and, you know, grab bars in the restroom. So there’s so many different things. And there’s not really any sort of uniform way right now that we’re seeing companies. In fact, the Sherm data, you know, they do the the benefits survey every year shows that eldercare benefits, sadly are down slightly year year, which is frustrating. But then there are pockets of companies that are really doing some innovative things. So I’m frustrated and hopeful that we’ll see more of this. But the number one thing is talk about it. Too many companies, I think, talk about parents who I mean workers who are parents, but they also need to talk about workers with parents so that that caregiver does know that there’s support and that they’re not the only one who’s going through it.
Yeah, weirdly, because not every employee has children to look after. But we all have parents, I think, right? I think that’s how it works. Some point, yeah, that was the biology of it. Yeah. So it does make sense.
Yeah, I have a question for you. Along the lines of you were talking about talking about it at work. I’d love to hear your perspective on okay. What do you say to your children if you have children, right? Because I do feel like I was just talking with my mother this morning. And you know, I said, my goodness, you never talked about, I don’t know, sex education, or just you were talking about the me to movement. And there was never any talk about you know, how to protect yourself or what to think about, right? So that generation typically did not talk to us a Gen Xers about anything really, right? And so we had to figure it out. So my question now is, as I’m raising, I have twins who are 19, a boy and a girl. And we talk a lot about it, because they’re seeing me going through this, right. So I’m sharing and being open about it. But I’m also kind of talking to them about, okay, when I get older, I’m going to make sure let’s work together now. Basically, when I’m 52, and you’re 19 at planning, how is this going to play out in 30 years? Are you seeing any of that? I mean, that might be a little reaching. But is there something we can be doing to help coach our children to be better with us and for us to be better to them when the time comes?
Liz O’Donnell 33:41
Absolutely. In the Working Daughter community, you hear this all the time, I am never going to do this to my children. And it’s usually someone who is scrambling to figure out, you know, their parents finances, their parents medical wishes, who had no warning and planning. And so that’s a refrain that you hear all the time from those of us who have gone through it, I will never put my children through this. And so they’re, you know, yes, those conversations are so so important and they are a gift when they happen between parent and child. Because then you have some framework for this life experience that we are often thrust into with absolutely no warning, I think for our generation. eldercare is somewhat of a surprise for so many of us. And I had I never grew up seeing caregiving. I grew up playing with baby dolls. You know, I love to play with baby dolls when I was little and you kind of imagined like, oh, someday I’ll be a mommy and this is what it would be like. I had none of that sort of foresight and thinking when it came to eldercare and it wasn’t that my parents probably they probably would have stepped up to care for their parents. But all four grandparents died of some kind of quick cardiac event at 80 in and that just runs in the family my both of my parents had also had cardiac issues, but one lift to nine Do one and one live to 84. Because, you know, there’s so many advances in health and science. So people are living longer, therefore likely living with chronic illnesses. But we, you know, our generation didn’t necessarily witness it because people didn’t live as long people to live with the same illnesses, illnesses had different trajectories. So I think now our children do have the gift, if you will, of seeing us pulling out our hair and going through it, but we’re only setting them up. So right across from me, and my office is a big black leather bag, of course, I had to buy something pretty to go on my, you know, my worker, denza. But my kids know that in there is the binder with the will, you know, the power of attorney, the health care proxy, they know who to call in the event, anything, you know, I’ve got the friend who’s my health care proxy, the cousin who’s the power of attorney, you know, they knew that they had anyone and to was set up as guardian in the event, anything happens. I mean, it’s not anything anybody wants to talk about, but think they know, I don’t want, you know, money spent on a big funeral and you know, all kinds of things. And I, you know, they’re 18 and 20. And I think it’s just helpful for them to know, they know that, you know, I don’t want them to, you know, worry about assisted living, or, you know, what my living arrangements will be, and that sort of thing. And then every now and then when I get on their nerves, you know, they look at me, and they’re like nursing home tomorrow, you know, we had these healthy, sometimes funny conversations.
Well, I think what you just said is a good tip for anybody listening, right? whatever age you are, make sure whether it’s in a nice leather, you know, attache case or whatever, right, have a binder, where everything is located or something online, that people have access to who’s handling what it, I feel like that alone would take pressure off. And maybe if you don’t have that with your own parents or your grandparents, now’s the time to start, right compiling that information, like you’re saying all this I, I definitely don’t have that. In my situation with my parents, right? It’s all scattered and all around.
I think that’s right, if nothing else, just begin to start being a little more open and trying to have these conversations, whether they’re at work, whether they’re in your personal life with your kids. I mean, yeah, I’d agree lives like so often, we just don’t want to talk about it. Because it’s unpleasant, no one wants to think about it. It’s hard to go up to an age and older parents, right and say, let’s talk about your impending illness and demise. Right, like, but if you don’t do it, right, then you’re going to end up with a lot more difficulties, potentially, then it’s gonna be difficult for now, right? Just having a parent get ill. Right, that’s hard on its own.
Liz O’Donnell 37:50
And the one thing I would say is, you know, try to frame it more around possibility than loss. You know, so, mom, dad, as you get older, have you thought about what’s important to you have you thought about, you know, what your quality, what you want, you know, this next phase of your life to look like? So you’re not saying like, hey, you know, you can’t live here forever, you got to move out of this house, or, Hey, you’re gonna die, right? But like, what’s important to you, in this stage of life, Mom and Dad, what’s important to you later, and maybe they don’t want to talk about it. So you kind of pushed to the brink, and you pull back and get up again, maybe you’ll never get there. You know, people are funny. But if you do the little, you know, any little bit you gain and learn, especially that later, if you’re in that crisis situation, if you’re in the ER at three in the morning, and you’re already overwhelmed, you have some basis to kind of say, Okay, I got this, you know, I’ve got a grounding, I know what I’m doing.
Yeah, for sure.
I love that you mentioned a little bit earlier. And I think it applies kind of now to what you’re talking about is the ability to have a choice, right? The parent has the choice, and you as the daughter or son, you then have a choice on how you respond. I don’t know if you hear of this often. But this, this has come up in my family and it continues to come up. So when you have to have a grandfather that lives in another state. And when it came time for him to go into, you know, a care facility, he chose one in that state, he didn’t want to leave even that state. And so it led to a conversation of Well, that’s fine, you’re going to have care then. But we can’t get there very often. We just can’t you’re making a choice to stay where you are. But we also have to have a response. I can’t feel guilty that I can’t get down there and see you every month, right? That’s really difficult. And then now I’m finding my parents are sort of doing the same thing. They want to stay in their state, which is not the state that I’m going to be in. So how do you navigate though? Both maybe the guilt of that, as well as the logistics. I know you talk a lot in the book about having those difficult conversations. You’ve given us some techniques. What about if you have a parent that just kind of digs in like this is the way, it’s gonna be right. I’m this parent I’m staying put, yeah, again, have that conversation.
Liz O’Donnell 40:05
I would make sure there’s no cognitive decline, because that changes the scenario. And you know, one thing that I don’t think people understand about dementia is that the progression isn’t linear. So sometimes people, now they’re just being obstinate, you know, yesterday, they could tie their shoes. And today, they can’t Well, that’s actually how the disease progresses. So just assuming that there was a logical, you know, if, if you assume some cognitive decline, just because it was a logical conversation one day doesn’t mean there’s going to be the next. So I’m taking that off the table, but just throwing that out there. So, but if there’s no cognitive decline in this parents just digging in, like, this is my home, this is where I live, and so be it. I do think we need to respect that. I mean, I don’t know if either of you are parents, but I think most of us, you know, in the parental role, including our parents, we want to protect our children, right, we don’t want to be a burden on our children. So and we see that coming. And so maybe they’re making this decision, because they really want to stay in that parental role. You know, up until the very end, it’s why you often hear of parents who maybe are on hospice, and they’re transitioning and death, and the adult children are sitting there in the room and the parent won’t die. And they would be you know, when the adult child or the family member goes to make a phone call or use the restroom. And that’s when the parent they really think they want to protect, you know, not all parents, right? But many parents, they’re in that parental protection role, up until the very last second. So you might want to, you know, scream and say, this is going to be more difficult for me, I recognize that maybe you think you’re doing the right thing for me. But you’re actually like, this means all of my vacations are now going to be in Nebraska or wherever I live. So hey, thanks.
Liz O’Donnell 41:56
So it’s frustrating. And we’re talking about people who have lived their entire life, you know, as adults who have the right to make these choices, who are choosing their autonomy over everything else. And then that’s again, where your choices come into play. You know, where you really have to soul search, right? When you do plan that next vacation? Do I go to Nebraska because I haven’t seen Mom and Dad because they made this choice that you know, I still want to draw for or do I feel fine and take the kids to Cape Cod, I mean, it but you you really you’re gonna have to do some soul searching around that, like what what kind of doctor do I want to be what’s going to feel okay, it’s not easy. It’s not easy. They have the autonomy. And there’s an excellent book that you may have read being mortal. by Atul Gawande wrote the book. He’s a he’s a New York Times bestseller. He’s also a surgeon at he was at Boston’s Brigham and Women’s I don’t know if he’s still there. And the book being mortal is all is a surgeon’s view of this rapidly aging society, and looking at quality of life, and he talks a lot. And for me, that was like an aha moment and reading his book that oftentimes is adult children were motivated by keeping our parents safe and trying to keep our lives neat. But we also have to recognize these adults earned their autonomy and we have to respect that.
Yeah, I love that perspective, because we’re not their parent. Right? It’s not our job to be their parent. I also hadn’t considered when you’re talking about maybe they’re doing what they’re doing to protect us I hadn’t really considered it that way. So thank you for just giving me a little me and the listeners a little extra nugget to sort of think of it from a different angle. That’s really helpful.
This is fantastic stuff. I thought like the beginning of this, we could probably go for hours on it. I think maybe we could talk for hours though, we probably could, we probably shouldn’t we should probably let you go and let our listeners go as well. But I do want to say this website is fantastic. It’s working daughter.com And I was reading like even just like the write on that on the homepage there like the 14 tips, right? To sort of help navigate these things and half of them were about just sort of forgiving yourself I thought like just giving yourself the space to yet don’t feel like you’ve got to be super person or Superwoman. Right don’t feel like you’ve got to do everything for everybody do what you can both at work at home for your parents for your own kids and and get through that and I just thought that was one of the big messages I’m taking away from both this conversation and from the some of the resources that working daughter.com So thank you, Liz for that and maybe for folks who want to find you working daughter.com Is the website but you mentioned your Facebook group your LinkedIn as well maybe maybe give that those a shout out real quick.
Liz O’Donnell 44:39
Well, it must be my marketing background, but everything is branded working daughter so working daughter on Facebook working daughter.com But the working daughter.com site will take you to the book, the Facebook group, all of that.
Yeah, awesome stuff. This has been fantastic. Trish, hopefully, your therapy session was positive and Liz send the bill right to Trish directly please.
That’s right, please. It’s worth it. Look, we have lots of different shows over the years less fort, we just celebrated 14 years of Steve starting podcast. So I think I mean this with all sincerity, this is one of the most helpful both personally professionally, and I think other people are going to feel the same. Please go check out Liz’s book, I think it’s you know, if it’s something you’re starting through, or if you’re right in the middle of it’s going to be a helpful tool to even again, give you some different perspective on your own personal situation because we get very wrapped up in what we’re what our past relationships with these people, right so it’s hard to kind of step back sometimes and see the bigger picture. So thank you for sharing that and and all the tips and thank you for your personal story. And that’s super impactful.
Liz O’Donnell 45:51
Thank you both. You know, I’m always grateful to anyone who will talk about this topic because it’s so important. And I think you asked some of the best questions ever.
Thank you so much. Great to meet you. Love the conversation with workingdaughter.com So let’s say thank you for sharing a lot of your story as well on the show today. It’s just been great stuff really great topic. I’m glad we’re able to do it. Please do visit HRHappyHour.net Of course for all the show archives and subscribe etc. Thanks to our friends at Paychex of course, once again and thanks everyone for listening to At work in America. My name is Steve Boese, for Trish Steed, for our guest Liz O’Donnell, thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next time and bye for now.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai
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