“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 a caregiver.” — Rosalyn Carter
When I define myself, caregiver isn’t even in the top 10. It’s a side hustle.
After my dad died, I moved back from Chicago to a little Ohio town to hang out with my 87-year-old mom. She’s in pretty good health, so I don’t think of myself as caregiver. But I drive her to out-of-town medical appointments, make things work on her computer and listen to how annoyed she is when the deer eat her hostas.
I know at least six other daughters who are taking care of their aging parents. These people change their mom’s diapers, manage their parents’ deteriorating physical and mental healthcare challenges from afar, and handle business matters.
According to the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and AARP Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report, more than one in five Americans are family caregivers. Of those, 61% are women — and that’s only in the U.S.
Yet caregivers aren’t just taking care of aging parents/relatives or providing end of life care. Caregivers are also parents. They’re caregivers to spouses and siblings. These caregivers are our colleagues, peers and friends.
I have a friend who juggles taking care of her 30-year-old son who’s on the autism spectrum, her husband who just had a critical surgery and her elderly mom — all on top of a stressful, full-time job. She’s not alone.
IABC members from across the globe reached out to share their caregiver experiences and thoughts. These excerpts are a glimpse into the breadth and depth of the stories gifted to me:
- “I have juggled being a caregiver to my husband who had cancer, mother to three kids and a full-time communications role. My husband died three weeks after I was promoted to head of communications at my company.” —Pam White, IABC Toronto
- “My husband was diagnosed with chronic kidney disease. His health rapidly declined. He had a rare complication and received care a little too late; now he has permanent mobility issues. My mom moved in with us and is 90% reliant on me to get around. I’m the only one working in our household.” — Stacey Makortoff, IABC Vancouver
- “I’ve been in marketing and comms for over 30 years and raised two boys. One who has a rare disease, autism, ADHD and a host of physical disabilities.” —Sandra Markus, SCMP, IABC Ottawa
- “I feel guilty that I’m not there to support my dad [who is living with Alzheimer’s Disease] on a daily basis. … It’s part of the ‘emotional load.’ My brother is the real hero as he lives much closer than I do.” —Carla Guest, IABC Toronto
- “I was working with the CEO, so sometimes I couldn’t duck out of meetings. One time my dad was having a cardio echogram. I had a headphone in and was half watching his heart (which should have been a moving moment in my life) and half listening into a corporate meeting about a Leadership conference.” —Victoria Silverman, IABC London
Caregivers explained the challenges of balancing caregiving, work responsibilities, career goals and self-care. Ethan McCarty, of IABC New York Metro Area and a “daddy to two nuclear-powered sons,” reflects, “If I can bring my intention more to how I choose my priorities … that naturally leads to a feeling of deep meaning, satisfaction and engagement which I value more than a precariously fleeting sense of balance.”
People shared that, as a caregiver, they used a range of professional abilities such as resilience, patience, empathy, organization, listening skills, relationship-building, problem-solving, consensus-building, crisis-planning, priority-setting, cultivating potential in others and the ability to change focus quickly. They acknowledged their research skills, ability to document and tenacity. “Knowing your audience and the challenges they face” appeared more than once.
One communicator, Candice (who doesn’t want her full name used) remarks, “Of course I was patient, but I think ‘acting’ is a bigger quality. You might have just changed an adult diaper and be late for a meeting, and you’re going to pretend you were on another call and got stuck.” Elena Acoba, IABC Tucson, shares that she “got really good at compartmentalizing.”
One communicator/caregiver described the difficulty that “people will be caring for kids and parents and working at full tilt on top of that — with very few people having any idea.” Our co-workers — communications professionals or otherwise — have always blended professional life and difficult caregiving situations.
As caregivers and communicators, we are in a position to listen closely, find ways to be heard and help create a workplace that opens with flexibility and possibility. This is only the beginning of the conversation. In a future story, I’ll share the advice and coping tools I learned from our colleagues.
Do these member experiences resonate with you? Reach out and connect with your community via IABC’s The Hub.
Kari E. McLean
Kari E. McLean is a marketing communications professional with a theater background, a tiny coffee addiction, a fondness for stories and a love of all animals. An IABC member since 2004, first in Chicago and now in the Greater Cincinnati area, McLean's IABC involvement is wide-ranging. She’s served on the Greater Cincinnati Chapter Board since 2008, on the Heritage Region’s Silver Quills committee and on the 2022 Foundation Grant Selection Task Force. She’ll be serving on the 2023 Program Advisory Committee. She has been an IABC awards evaluator at the local, regional and Blue Ribbon panel levels. Currently, she works as senior manager, content & marketing with New York-based Integral, an employee activation agency (thanks to the magic of IABC!).