I had a coffee and a catch-up recently with a friend, and this is the reply she made to my “How are you?” She was feeling the downside of middle age, aware of the onset of the menopause and wanting some “me time” – but just when her children were leaving the nest she was now having to adjust to the rapidly increasing responsibilities of caring for an elderly mother.
There was a simple acceptance that this is the way things would have to be, however it did prompt the thought around ‘missing out’. As our children become increasingly independent many of us look forward to a time for weekends away with a partner, girls’ nights out without the cost of a babysitter and not having to cope with the vast amounts of washing that children can produce! However weekend ‘mum’s taxi’ duties of ferrying children to sports clubs or parties had been swapped for two hour round trips to her mother’s, grocery shopping for items that would stay in date until the next visit (as due to deteriorating eyesight her mother couldn’t read the labels and had previously been found drinking out of date milk) and cleaning two houses at the weekend rather than just yelling at the kids to pick up their own laundry.
My friend’s story was on my mind as I was reviewing some of our research The Modern Families Index alongside the Gender Pay Gap reporting that’s taking place. One of the pieces that struck me was whether we’ve really considered whether elder care is a male or female issue. Clearly it should be perfectly gender-balanced; whether you are a man or a woman your parent is your parent, and caring responsibilities for elderly parents should be equally split between siblings. Or so I believe.
While as leading employers we might embrace Shared Parental Leave, encourage mums and dads to take time off to attend important family events and have a flexible approach, where practical, to parents’ working patterns, I still think we have a way to go to bring these sentiments to bear on eldercare responsibilities. It has taken a while, and (based on some horror stories you hear) continues to be a work in progress, for people to openly discuss their childcare challenges with their line managers - so what can we do to bring eldercare to the forefront as well? Is the fact that it should equally affect men and women going to help people to engage with the issue or do we need to wait another ten years before the millennials are in the positions of power to really embed a cultural attitude that puts family and social responsibility before work?
I would encourage everyone to ask the questions of their employers today, and to keep asking them. Even if this issue doesn’t affect you in the short term it is likely that in some guise it will become a pressing issue one day, whether for you or a member of your team.
The conversation with my friend brought into sharp focus how lucky I am to be part of a company that offers an eldercare solution. While it might not ease any of the emotional guilt of not being able to do it all, it does reassure me that should the need arise I can ask someone to help take mum to the doctor’s appointment or provide in-home care after a hospital visit.
With almost 1 in 4 mothers and fathers caring for someone over the age of 18 – a number that is expected to rise to near a third in 5 years’ time – there must be more that we can do to prepare including coaching our teams on how to offer support, where to find advice and the practical solutions that are available. Carers UK and Age UK are just two of the many fantastic organisations providing helpful resources and information on caring for elderly loved ones.
Let’s start asking the questions now rather than waiting until we’re middle-aged, menopausal and missing out!
Bronwen Burton, Head of Corporate Marketing and Communications, Bright Horizons