What happens when the role of Caregiver drops into the middle of a thriving career, busy life and lifestyle?
The role of Caregiver is not a position that I would ever have applied for on LinkedIn or an employment portal in my career journey. But, as life “happens”, I assumed the role of Caregiver without warning, and probably at the most inopportune time of my life.
My story starts in the Big City of Dreams… New York City… and a seized opportunity to follow my dreams to work in the music industry. I won’t get into the details (and there were a lot of details), but I will testify that it was a dream come true that defined my life and lifestyle. I ascended to the highest levels, developing a mastery for pop culture marketing and brand development. The byproduct of my success was laying a foundation for the industry and fostering cross platform income streams for icons such as Jay-Z, 50 Cent and Kim Kardashian. Today, that foundation has created an industry that influences over 25 billion dollars, with companies like Goldman Sachs evaluating adjacent investments that affect the largest target demographic – millennials – that control over a trillion dollars of spending power.
The magnitude of my career and what I contributed established a non-committal life, and lifestyle with no bandwidth for balance, dictating a fluid home/work life, with no personal time, minimal family time and an irresponsible attitude regarding family planning. In my 20’s and 30’s, time was foolishly not a top commodity, but a HOT career was.
The Shift To Caregiver
And so, you can imagine that I was unprepared and unwelcoming of the accidental role of CAREGIVER, assuming remote responsibilities for my elderly mother in Houston. I do love my mother; however, I knew that this “assignment” would test even the strongest bonds established between a mother and a daughter and I wanted no part of it.
Caught in my feelings, I developed a very selfish resentment and was silently unwilling to pause my life and serve as Caregiver. I did not dare express my thoughts out loud. Instead, I suffered in silence for quite some time, not wanting to encourage public judgement from family and her friends that were calibrated to shame and admonish me for considering escaping duties. As the eldest, and only daughter, I was required to step up to this time-honored tradition of “caring for mama” like her mom, and her mom before that and the mama before that. WHO DID I THINK I WAS – SHIRKING MY RESPONSIBILITY IN THE UNIVERSAL “CARE” CHAIN?
The subsequent years entailed an endless travel loop between New York and Texas to frequently check-in with my mother, ignoring her diminishing memory and independence. Our relationship thinned as I approached matters that addressed her aging challenges. She fought back with a vengeance each time, reminding me of my place in the food chain.
Each trip when my plane touched down, my stress level would escalate as I prepared to assume the roles of detective, nutritionist, primary care physician, pharmacists and “fixer upper” – whatever was needed to keep her in place. A prescription of denial and procrastination sustained the situation, until it didn’t. Even though I had established a very broken evaluation process and care on the run model, the scarcity of vision nearly swallowed me into overwhelm trying to unpack the tangled web of elder-care abyss.
The Juggling & Struggling Phase
Through some small miracle, I managed to stop the treadmill and marry – and then 10 years later, through the marvels of fertility medicine, birthed twin daughters at the age of 49. Suddenly, I began to learn the meaning of the word juggling – or should I say struggling and juggling …motherhood, career, marriage, life and lifestyle. But honestly, I was overworked, overwhelmed and very sleep deprived.
The juggling and struggling phase created the perfect storm that forced me to look at my challenges from a different lens and leverage learned career strategies and management techniques to develop a more impactful and sustainable – methodology.
COVID-19 quarantining with my twins, spouse and mother (trapped in New York after her annual Christmas visit) was an aha moment that brought an additional clarity about my role in this ecosystem, that enabled me to perfect my approach and change the trajectory of my care equation.
Post-pandemic life lessons empowered me to establish three truths & declarations that triggered specific actions that cemented my care management model. My mission is now to change the way that the world looks at the caregiver…. forever.
Breaking Down The Caregiver Role
1. The term Caregiver must be specifically assigned to the individual and/or company that is providing care products or services direct to the elderly (D2E).
Johns Hopkins Medicine defines a CAREGIVER as a person who tends to the needs or concerns of a person with short- or long-term limitations due to illness, injury or disability.
I offer that the primary family member assigned the responsibility of “figuring it all out” on behalf of their elderly relative, but is NOT on the frontlines of administering care, should be designated the CHIEF CARE OFFICER. This small title change presented an authoritative positioning when presented to vendors and service providers that allowed the conversation to focus on person centered care.
2. Embracing the role of Chief Care Officer, entitles you to be unapologetic about putting yourself first in this paradigm.
Eldercare responsibilities fall disproportionately on women. The financial impact on working caregivers who leave the labor force due to caregiving demands can be severe. A recent study suggests that family caregivers aged 50 and older who leave the workforce to care for a parent lose, on average, nearly $304,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetime. *
Moving yourself from the back seat to the driver’s seat coupled with an integrative YOU FIRST plan, programs ongoing physical, mental, spiritual and emotional health and well-being self-preservation. This simple attitude shift is an insurance policy that can protect your current and future personal path and could possibly protect your present and potential income.
3. Creating a strategic plan with a high-performance TEAM management approach, assigns key and distinctive roles in the care plan, fostering a person-centered environment. This integrated YOU FIRST model disrupts the current fragmented industry model and leverages modern day leadership, mentoring and ownership practices that address course correction and makes allowances to fill any gaps.
In a post-pandemic world with potential variants threatening care protocols daily, it is imperative that we challenge best practices and create alternate solutions that meet your loved ones needs.
My story is not unique. My perspective and life lessons learned provide a platform to passionately educate like-minded, high-performance women who are looking for an alternative care approach.
Former First Lady and Caregiving Advocate, Rosalynn Carter said it first and she said it best:
“There are only four kinds of people in the world: those who have been caregivers, those who are currently caregivers, those who will be caregivers, and those who will need caregivers.” (Aug 5, 2012)
I think the First Lady would appreciate my lens and would add that Chief Care Officers make it all happen.
* Protecting Family Caregivers from Employment Discrimination – AARP Public Policy Institute