As people learn about my mother’s cancer diagnosis, many have shared their personal experiences of caring for an adult relative. I’ve noticed an interesting pattern, especially in the stories of mothers who also have young children. A number of them either worked full-time or part-time until an adult relative got sick. And then they quit. In other words, contrary to what we hear in the media, caring for their children wasn’t too much. It was the additional care of an adult relative that ultimately drove them out of the workforce. For example,
- Jill was a banker in New York City who had just had her second child when her mother’s cancer recurred. She felt she couldn’t get any flexibility at her firm, “all or nothing,” so she quit her job to help care for her mother until she died, and never returned to the workforce.
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Commentary: Yes, Things Are Getting Better… Last Tuesday I spoke to a group of professional women under 30 in New York City. I introduced the work+life “fit” strategies and then two senior executive women presented their personal stories. One was from a large media company, and the other from a large private equity firm, both had children. The final question posed to us during the Q&A was, “Have you seen things really change for the better regarding work+life?” The three of us were unanimous, “Yes, it absolutely has.” Even though we had come at this subject from three completely different perspectives, we all agreed things were improving. This got me thinking about other positive signs I’ve noticed recently.
The signs may be subtle, but the work+life conversation is starting to take a turn toward creative solutions—individually, organizationally, and culturally. Like the green shoots of the spring flowers that are just peeking out, they don’t make much of an impression individually. But, once they all start to bloom, it becomes clear that a change of season has arrived. Here are some small “shoots” of evidence that I take as encouraging signs:
Redefining Success–Caregiving: What Does it Mean to be a “Good” Caregiver of an Aging Parent?
Adjusting your personal definition of success to support your “fit” is critical. In addition to money, prestige, and advancement, caregiving is one of the aspects of success that you may need to redefine. What does it mean to be a “good” caregiver–father, mother, or adult child of an aging parent—in the context of your desired work+life fit. That definition will be different for everyone.
Last week’s blog posting examined the reasons why work+life is an “everyone” issue. Both men and women experience numerous work+life fit transitions—big and small–over the course of their work and life. One of the most significant transitions comes with undertaking the care of an aging parent. With the diagnosis of my mother’s cancer three weeks ago, I joined the ranks of adult children responsible for the care of a parent facing the question, “What does it mean to be a ‘good’ eldercare giver?”
For a long time, I’ve challenged the conventional wisdom that work+life is primarily a working mothers’ issue with the proven fact that it’s an “everyone” issue. But recent articles about working mothers versus stay-at-home mothers have convinced me that not only must we recognize once and for all that work+life “fit” isn’t just a working mothers’ issue, BUT that in doing so, we will actually help mothers more. I say this as a working mother with two small children who faces these challenges daily.
This realization hit me while reading the 3/2/06 New York Times article about the stall in the number of mothers returning to the workplace after having children. A former high-tech business development executive with three children was interviewed and talked about how “duped” she felt by her expectations about working after having children. I started thinking about other big work+life “fit” transitions women and men experience over the course of their life and career. And how their expectations related to these experiences are also often not aligned with reality, which leads to similar feelings of being “duped.”