Life Happens: Sandwiched between Parents, Children and Work

Within days of learning she was pregnant with her second child; Barb Brzezicki faced the unfolding of an unexpected and harrowing chapter in her family's life: her mother's diagnosis with Alzheimer's disease. The working mother was suddenly balancing pregnancy with caring for her young daughter and her mother, Stella — starting to drive her to and from appointments in the weeks before Christmas 2009. What's more, Brzezicki became sick and ended up on disability, which she believed was stress-induced.

Brzezicki came to the realization that she could no longer manage on her own and enlisted outside help. "I love my mom but I became, `Today we've got to do this, and tomorrow we've got to do that,'" Brzezicki recalled, sitting in the living room of her home in a quiet west-end Toronto neighborhood, steps away from her mother's house next door. "I wasn't enjoying the relationship of being a daughter....We totally lost that," she added, her voice breaking.

The experiences of the 37-year-old are undoubtedly common in thousands of households known as "The Sandwich Generation" – and their ranks will swell as boomers approach retirement age.

For those working outside the home, carving out time off to tend to an elder relative may pose an overwhelming challenge. Fifty percent of employees caring for a loved one admit that their job performance is negatively affected due to the challenges of caring for a loved one while trying to maintain a family and work balance.

Family Medical Leave of Absence (FMLA) is available for up to a maximum of six weeks if individuals are required to be absent from work to care for a gravely ill family member at risk of dying within 26 weeks. But for many families, elder care can be a responsibility extending over a far longer period of time. Each situation is different.

There's "definitely reluctance" on the part of caregivers of elderly parents in talking to employers about taking time off, particularly in an economic downturn. But having the conversation is crucial. Talking to employers and managers about taking flex-time, for instance, when caring for a loved one is worth looking at and perhaps, going part-time temporarily, is another option.

Taking care of our aging population does not yet have the formal social acceptance most workplaces have around maternity and parental care leave. But, similar to those instances, these changes in life are only seasonal and will not last indefinitely. Having help from family, outside sources, and employers and managers all working together can help find the right fit for each individual’s work-life needs.

Of course, there may not be an easy solution for every employer and employee. But by having a conversation and approaching each situation with flexibility, a lot can be accomplished.

The Canadian Press, March 2011
Met Life Mature Market Institute

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