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Caregiving: A Professional Hazard?

News flash: caregiving can be hazardous to your professional life. This may not come as much of a surprise to any working caregivers out there, but now, at least, there’s documentation in an AARP Fact Sheet to back up what many caregivers already know from our daily lives. The fact sheet, recently summarized by fellow blogger Sally Abrahms, brings together research from a range of studies to make the point that the demands of parental caregiving are becoming increasingly expensive to both employers and employees.

I had an advantage being self-employed when it came to taking care of my live-in father. As a freelance writer, I had a lot more flexibility than the average office worker to make my schedule work with Dad’s doctors’ appointments and unplanned emergency-room visits and hospitalizations. But I also faced enormous pressure to meet my deadlines as though my caregiving responsibilities did not exist. For example, I always made sure to forward my home-office phone to my cellphone so clients wouldn’t know I actually was answering their questions from, say, the waiting room at Dad’s cardiologist’s office.

I wasn’t alone in feeling the need to create a virtual veil between my work and family lives. A series of reports from the Boston College Center for Work & Family looks at the conflicts men can face as caregivers from the viewpoint of fathers and their growing children. For “The New Dad: Caring, Committed and Conflicted,” researchers surveyed nearly 1,000 working fathers. An eye-popping 99 percent responded that their managers’ expectations of them either stayed the same or increased after the birth of their most recent child.

There really aren’t any easy solutions to this work/family conflict. Yes, enlightened employers who understand that our need to leave early to sit in on Dad’s next kidney appointment is just as valid as a coworker’s desire to attend a son’s soccer game would be great, and AARP’s Caregiving Initiative could go a long way toward that goal. In the short term, though, it’s up to each of us to truly understand the limits of what we can and can’t do, and not beat ourselves up when we fall short of our own or someone else’s idea of ideal. As a Gallup poll from 2011 shows, carrying a high level of stress can harm your health. Managing your health by managing your stress will help ensure you’re actually able to be of real use to your loved ones when care is really needed.