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Caregiving for children and elderly parents can strain women professionals 

During her professional career, Karen Bond has had to struggle with the balance of caring for an aging parent and her daughter. Women often are the primary caregivers for members of their families. (The Daily Record file photo)

One of the defining moments of Karen Bond’s professional career came about five years ago. “For years, I had worked really hard to become president of Executive Alliance,” she said of the nonprofit dedicated to helping professional women succeed in leadership roles.

At the time, Bond was taking care of her mother who had dementia along with being a mother to her daughter and having a thriving professional career. “The day of our Women of Excellence luncheon, that I had always dreamed that my mother would be able to be there and see that achievement, was the day that my caregiver didn’t show up and I was scheduled to be in front of a thousand women. I barely got there in time.”

Caregiving can be extremely challenging for professional women as many must juggle their careers with motherhood and with their elderly parents/relatives. While home health care aides can help, a majority of women take on the caregiving responsibility themselves.

Bond, who is now a Director of Senior Partnerships at the University of Maryland, left her job at Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth in order to care for her mother.

“For a long time, I never told people that my mother had dementia because keeping it a secret was my security blanket for my career,” she said. “I just tried to do it all. I am two years past my mother’s (passing) and I am just getting back to feeling like normal because I was living on two to three hours of sleep. It is tough and I think it is important to disclose and seek support.”

Elizabeth Weglein, CEO if the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network, said the role reversal of children caring for their parents can be difficult.

Elizabeth Weglein, CEO of the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network, notes the role reversal of children caring for their parents can be difficult. Many who now have children of their own get caught in the middle of commitments. “Do they spend time taking their child to soccer camp or being with them for their special awards and parties and just being with their children versus looking after mom and dad who may have some physical needs. Usually it is some cognitive decline. That level of stress can be enormous.”

Women who are caregivers to their parents are more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety as they are pulled in multiple different directions, according to Weglein. They do not feel there are enough hours in the day to care for their children, parents, spouse/partner and perform well in their career. Many women also push their own health to the side in order to care for others which has resulted in cancers being found in later stages and an increase in mental health issues.

“We saw a high level of burnout with our families that were finally coming to us,” Weglein said. “They were at a higher end need than pre-pandemic. We were seeing people more at the end stage of exhaustion from the family that was helping but we also saw an exhaustion from mom and dad as well. They realized they became a burden and it became very, very hard to ask for help from them so they were holding off.” The wait lead to longer hospital stays and a greater risk for falls.

Celebrating 65 years of service, the Elizabeth Cooney Care Network provides a wide variety of services for ages infant to over 100 years old including respite care, daily hygiene and fall prevention. “Sometimes just knowing psychologically that you have support, that you have someone who is reliable to call, I think, that is a pivotal piece of reducing your stress,” she said.

Even though women often put their needs last, Weglein notes the importance of taking care of yourself. She encourages women to carve out a time to do something they enjoy whether it is taking a walk or partaking in a yoga class as a way to recharge.

Bond agrees and believes women need to have a lens of grace and patience when it comes to caregiving. “I took the route of ‘I will not stop’,” she said. “I was superwoman. You can’t do that. You have to pause. It is like putting gas in the car. You have to take timeout or you are less effective.”

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