Managing raising children while holding down a full-time job is a challenge for all parents. Add in caring for aging parents and it can feel more like a vise than the proverbial sandwich. Dedham-based marketing executive Liz O’Donnell has written a book, Working Daughter: A Guide to Caring for Your Aging Parents While Making a Living, and started a website, www.workingdaughter.com, both aimed at helping daughters of elderly parents better manage the pressures coming at them from all directions. Both are based on O’Donnell’s own experience trying to care for her parents, raise her children, and meet the requirements of a demanding job. They are full of good advice for other daughters (and sons) facing the same challenges.
In her book, O’Donnell divides the tasks at hand into 10 more or less chronological groups:
Implicit Bias Against Daughters
In her chapter on choosing the best care for her mother, as one example, O’Donnell tells the story of her mother being discharged from the hospital at a time when her father was also hospitalized. O’Donnell had to choose where to place her mother since she could not live at home herself. Lots of children of aging parents have faced similar situations when hospitals are discharging them with no clear plan for how they’ll be cared for.
But it’s often different for daughters than it is for men due to implicit bias, which O’Donnell defines as “an unconscious belief that a person has about a group of people such as women or a religious group or people of a certain race.” In her case, the social worker at her mother’s hospital seemed to believe that O’Donnell could drop everything and either take her mother home with her or run around to assisted living facilities to find the best placement for her mother immediately:
Perhaps the social worker handling my mother’s case was operating with an implicit bias that the middle-class, middle-aged woman standing before her had the time and inclination to care for her mother in her home. In my Gap capris, t-shirt, and probably still wet ponytail, I didn’t look the part of a busy senior executive, but I was that and a concerned daughter.
Of course, one of the parts I appreciate most from this chapter is the section titled “Lawyer up.” O’Donnell counsels:
When it comes to paying for long-term care, I cannot stress enough how useful it is to consult an elder law attorney. Yes, paying for a lawyer is an expense, but that legal fee can save you from spending or losing money you don’t need to. Elder care attorneys can help you understand your options for funding long-term care including Veteran’s and Social Security benefits and how to protect you and your parents’ assets.
In her penultimate chapter on planning, O’Donnell counsels all parents to make plans so that they don’t put their children through what she and her sisters experienced in caring for their parents. While you can’t plan for everything, having legal and financial documents in order and choosing to live in a place with available supports rather than alone in an isolated single-family house can make a big difference.
And if you’re a daughter (or even a son) of aging parents, read Working Daughter. Whether you do so cover to cover or simply dip in when chapters are relevant to what you’re facing, both the book and the website can be terrific resources. They can really help you organize your thinking and prioritize your activities so that you don’t feel so overwhelmed you become frozen and unable to move forward.