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The New Normal Lets Family Caregivers Lay the Groundwork for Guilt-Free Work-Life Balance

COVID-19 is a tragedy, but it could also bring a new dawn for family caregivers who were hitherto stretched too thin. Here's how.

Those of us juggling professional lives with caring for loved one such as a chronically ill spouse or elderly parent know all too well the sinking feeling of guilt that comes from leading a double life.

And with it, the impulse to perpetually apologize at work for things that have nothing to do with tangible performance benchmarks:

I’m sorry I’m late…my mother’s doctor’s appointment ran later than I expected.

I’m sorry I can’t attend the conference. It’s not possible for me to spend nights away.

I’m sorry to miss spur-of-the-moment drinks after work. I have to pick up my kids and check on my parents.

We feel bad for having different circumstances than our colleagues and for not being able to put in extra time.  We feel guilty that the demands of our family responsibilities require us to stick strictly to our pre-established schedules with little flexibility for hopping into impromptu meetings or staying late.  On top of this, even our strict schedules are sometimes disrupted, throwing our colleagues for a loop: even with the best laid plans, family caregiving often brings unforeseen hiccups and obstacles to navigate. 

But suddenly there’s a bit less racing around to do. The coronavirus crisis has upended regular work structures, with companies putting an abrupt stop to the hustle of traditional workplaces. Social distancing has landed us at home. This can present unique challenges (those homeschooling children under 12, I’m looking at you), but in many regards, it’s a blessing in disguise as the ever-desired work from home option is no longer an option: it’s the new way of the workplace.

As the founder of a company that seeks to support family caregivers currently balancing caregiving roles and checkbooks, I see this as an opportunity for America’s 40 million-plus family caregivers to create a new normal and prove that it works.  In this new normal, working at home is accepted and embraced.  With the coronavirus keeping throngs of people out of the office, it’s no longer necessary to hide and apologize away the complex and busy details of our lives. Our kids, pets, spouses and parents are right there in the background for all to see. There’s no question, the current situation is sobering, but also empowering, as more and more we see our family care situations mirrored across the nation. Knowing “we’re all in this together” we can finally feel confident sharing our once concealed caregiver lifestyle. 

In this new normal, family caregivers have a chance to prove that their contributions are highly valuable, and by no means lesser than those of colleagues free of the constraints of family caregiving.

How can we seize the moment to make this temporary, crisis-driven response into a lasting shift where flexible schedules and working from home garner the respect they deserve?  The answer lies in establishing how colleagues see our value, even when they don’t see us.

Be known as the go-to

Regardless of how much time you have (or don’t have) to spend with colleagues, the ultimate in showing your value is being confident and capable in your area, demonstrating results that benefit your organization on the whole. Be known as the “go-to” — the person who can either get the work done — or if not — knows the perfect team member who can! 

Share your contributions regularly

To stay on the radar when working from home, it’s equally, if not more important, to share your contributions with your colleagues and managers. Touch in, document and provide updates daily, weekly or per project, based on an agreed schedule. Seems simple enough but under-sharing in this regard can land you back on your heels, on the defensive.

Focus on what you can control

In family care situations there are things we can control and influence, and things we can’t. Focus thoughts and actions on what you can control, for example, your response to situations, your health and prioritizing time with family on things that really matter. 

With lines now blurred between work and home life, this is an opportunity to demonstrate that level of commitment isn’t about clocking-in hours in the office as much as relevant contributions and making the time count.

When we feel like we’re in the driver’s seat and have control in structuring our day, we have more energy and feel less stressed.  In a win-win, employers will benefit as much as we do — if not more.  

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