This was the case for the social-media consultant Shelley Boyle, whose mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s nine months ago and refuses a professional caregiver even though her doctors want her to receive support everyday. So Boyle, who owns her own business, was until recently visiting her mother daily and calling her four to five times.
“It’s absolutely been a strain on my job and my company,” said Boyle. “I had to drop a couple of clients to make time for my mom and therefore I had a change in my income. My expenses are increasing but right now that’s my choice. I wonder, where is this disease going? What is the next stage?”
“My life all of a sudden feels limited,” she says. “Here I was forging a career and building a life and now I have to spend 20 to 30 hours on top of my full time job to take care of her.”
With that kind of time commitment, eldercare is a challenge even for women who have support at work. Miriam Diwan was on the fast track at a big private equity firm when her mother was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Management, Diwan says, was supportive. “My managing director kept telling me my mom was my number one priority,” she says. That helped alleviate some short-term pressure at work, but ultimately Diwan resigned from the firm. She and her mother relocated to Los Angeles to be near doctors at UCLA and Diwan chose to move to a company with a more flexible schedule than her first firm afforded. “It’s really tough when it’s up or out,” says Miriam. “In a high-stress career you have to make the career your life. But to be the primary caregiver takes up a lot of time.”
And therein lies the problem that affects not only working daughters, but also their employers. Every day 10,000 people turn 65 in this country and the AARP predicts that by 2030, the United States will need between 5.7 and 6.6 million caregivers to support the sick and aging. Unpaid, family caregivers will be called upon to meet that demand. What will the economic impact be if America can’t keep caregivers like Boyle and Diwan at work? The same MetLife and National Alliance for Caregiving study calculated the cost to businesses to replace women caregivers who quit their jobs because of their caregiving responsibilities at an estimated $3.3 billion. And how will society pay for the care that these women, with their compromised pensions, retirement funds, and savings accounts, will inevitably need? As Boyle says, “The biggest issue is I am now living hand-to-mouth. I am just getting by and I am not able to put money away for a rainy day. A lot of the stress is thinking about when my mom dies, what will my life look like?”
American’s conversation about the competing demands of work and family needs to take working daughters into account. The focus must not just be on the need for maternity leave or even parental leave, but family leave—and other accommodations such as flex time, mentoring, and reentry-assistance programs—that will enable workers to care for their aging parents without their lives falling apart.