“I gotta go,” I typed into the Skype chat. “Mom’s having a seizure.”
That wouldn’t be the first time I ever had to hop off a meeting because Mom was having a seizure (or was choking on a cough, or was experiencing her MS tremors again) . . . and it wouldn’t be the last.
Going on nine years since we began our journey together as mom and daughter/patient & caregiver, I’ve picked up loads of best practices, lessons, tips and tricks for managing working from home and being a fulltime caregiver. Here are 5 expert tips for working from home while caregiving:
1. Get Serious About Schedules. Caregivers know that schedules play critical roles in successful care management of a sick or aging family member. Waking up at the same time each day, going to bed, taking medicines, toileting, eating meals, TV time, exercise time, etc . . . a structured framework for anyone with a chronic illness, cognitive decline, or other special needs provides stability for them and for their caregiver.
In the same vein, a schedule for work that operates around your caregiving routine is a must. Windows of time for taking meetings and for completing daily tasks like reports and emails, will lend themselves to making you not only a more capable and reliable team member to your co-workers, but a less stressed caregiver too.
2. Get a Headset. Much of my job was spent on the phone, and for the earliest, most naive years of working from home and taking care of mom, I was always doing two things at once. When it came to taking calls, that meant cradling the phone between my ear and shoulder, and typing or writing with my hands.
Boy did I pay for it within a couple of years though! I had chronic and radiating neck and back pain, and had to see a chiropractor for two years. If you haven’t already, get a headset, get earbuds, put your phone on speaker, whatever you need to do, just don’t cradle that phone!
3. Don’t Forget to Eat. Working and taking care of someone from home full-time essentially divides your time into ‘what can I do for my company’ and ‘what can I do for my loved one.’ (#whatisalunchhour) There were some days when 4 p.m. would roll around, I would start feeling light-headed or shaky, and I would realize all I had consumed that day was coffee, water, and a few bites of food I made for Mom. Don’t forget to eat! Set reminders for eating (and drinking lots of water!) in your schedule and try as much as possible to fill up on a healthy breakfast early in the morning.
4. Realize It Doesn’t Always Have to Be Chaos I had what seems like an almost silly realization a few years ago. Caregiving and working, working and caregiving – every minute of a weekday was filled with go, go, go from sunrise to sunset and typically into the moonlit hours. Occasionally, work would slow down and Mom would be having a great day, and I almost felt lost.
I would make work for myself setting extra meetings and taking on new projects. Why? That’s all I knew. Overtime, I discovered it’s just not necessary. Some days CAN be easy, and that’s ok! Some days WILL be easy, and that’s ok! Soak up that downtime and don’t feel guilty about it – you deserve it.
5. Be Upfront with Colleagues. When it came to managing a full-time job and Mom’s schedule I was completely upfront with my colleagues about my caregiving schedule. Working remotely meant sharing digital calendars with one another. I made a point to block off Mom’s meal/meds times with an hour of padding after each just in case something went awry or took longer than I thought.
This provided a clear view for my team when there were windows open for scheduling meetings, connecting with me, etc. There are limits to your ability to be able to be in all places and doing all things at once. All I knew back then was that making it crystal clear that Mom came first, and everything else second was all I could do.
What are your go-to tips for working from home and managing a caregiving schedule?
Guest post by Jess McLean, a freelance writer and full-time caregiver to her Mom who has Primary Progressive MS and Epilepsy. She lives Austin, TX with her husband and Mom, and blogs about caregiving tips, ideas, and solutions at Givea.Care.