Caregiver and author, Fern Pessin

As part of our caregiver spotlight series, spoke with caregiver and author Fern Pessin about the challenges of caregiving and employment both prior to and through the pandemic.

What are some of the unique challenges working caregivers are facing right now?

The way we work in recent days is vastly different from everything this generation has ever seen. We are all adapting on the fly. On one hand, working remotely has offered people a chance to get closer to family and spend less time commuting but on the other hand, if you’re working remotely, family interference can interrupt work productivity. Whether you’re caregiving for young children or an aging person with physical or cognitive challenges, their ability to comprehend your need for quiet ‘work time’ is non-existent. They see you, they need you, they want you, and you get distracted. 

To hire help to care for those that need it means bringing in outsiders who may be carrying Covid-19 with them. That adds to the tension and anxiety. Long-distance siblings are unable to provide respite because they can’t/shouldn’t travel during Covid-19. 

When a parent or spouse is isolated in a senior living community, the ability to see, touch, and hear that person is limited and the depression and guilt of the caregiver can become all-consuming. Without the ability to physically connect, people with dementia are forgetting their children and spouses. The ability to provide comfort and reassurance is relegated to a small screen being held in front of them by paid caregivers.   

All of this intensity leaves people prone to a host of stress-related maladies that may impact their ability to focus and, as a result, productivity may decline. 

What gender disparities affect how caregivers are treated in the workplace?

Men may be stigmatized or teased for being emotional about caregiving for their parents. Caregiving for a spouse or child gets less teasing, but men are expected to be able to balance everything. Men in supervisory roles are often afraid to share their challenges with direct reports because there’s a fear of appearing weak or soft. There could be fear that a peer will outperform someone distracted by caregiving and thus receive more lucrative projects which lead to elevation in the organization. Men tend to “power through” which can take a physical and mental toll. 

Women are also impacted because they are most often the ones that step-up to provide physical care. They may be called away from work for emergencies or need to help manage conversations with doctors, lawyers, utility companies, handymen, and so on. This can lead to a reduction in productive work hours, being distracted, and changes in workload to allow for more flexibility. All of these modifications can put the brakes on opportunities to advance and grow. Not to mention the financial impact–the loss or reduction of health benefits and the bearing on retirement plans.

What has been your experience balancing work and caregiving responsibilities, pre- and during Covid?

I moved from the Connecticut/New York area to Florida so that I could be close to my parents and provide local support. I gave up the businesses I ran and became a full-time chauffeur, personal shopper, nurse, legal consultant, financial analyst, secretary, chef and more for my parents. When my parents moved into independent living, I was able to go back to my love of writing and found it easy to talk about the things I learned as a caregiver in-between the phone calls, texts, and virtual errand-running I still do for my parents. Now I get to help other caregivers and seniors learn to navigate these waters. 

Ironically, Covid has essentially given me more time to take care of myself because I physically am…

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