By Susan Rose
Many of you reading this are caught up is what is called the Sandwich Generation. That is, folks in their 30s, 40s, and 50s who have aging parents and in-laws (and possibly grandparents!) and also children under 18 living at home—and it’s an apt description of how you can feel smooshed by both generations at times. Even if you don’t have young kids, the aging of your parents is inevitable; as a business owner, you have the added wrinkle of worrying about your company while simultaneously needing to step away to set up a long-term arrangement to care for your parents.
Is it time for the talk with your aging loved ones and your family? While this is serious stuff, and most people don’t like to discuss it, this doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. It ultimately should be reassuring for everyone that their wishes are being considered—can you think of a more loving action? Just like any good emergency plan you have for your company, this will set your mind at ease when you most need it.
Plan Ahead. You’re a business owner, so you’re likely comfortable with planning, and this exercise will give everyone peace of mind when the time comes. Talking about your parents’ future care isn’t easy, and the conversations that need to take place can be complex, infantilizing (without intention), and embarrassing for everyone involved. Not all elders have embraced their mortality, and many might be hell-bent on keeping their independence as long as possible—which is not necessarily a bad thing. Conversely, you could have a parent who is all too happy to be taken care of, which can become an emotional and financial drain on you. Or perhaps the struggle is yours. This conversation will be a lot less rushed and honest—and could possibly include some humor—if it takes place before one of your parents needs care. There might need to be compromises: This is the time to address where they might live, who is available to assist with care (family and friends), to put the paperwork in order such as powers of attorney (medical and financial) and a will, at what point they want care denied (DNR order), and any burial arrangements. Their health situation can change overnight, and when it does, you may not be able to honor—or even know—their wishes unless you have the talk. And note that this plan should be flexible enough to evolve with your family’s situation.
"The last thing you want to worry about is your business when you want to be spending quality time with your parent.”
Planning ahead also applies to your role in providing care and still managing your business. Many of you have already successfully delegated responsibilities to your trusted employees with great success; for others, you’ll need to work toward it so that you’re not tethered to your operation regardless of a sick parent. It’s a healthy exercise to prove that you’ve built a company that doesn’t rely solely on you to run smoothly. Technology can help keep you connected to both your family and your business without missing a beat. Unlike your employees, you don’t have a Family Leave Act, but you do have the benefit of regular cash flow and hopefully some savings should you need to step away from your company. This might be the time to hire an assistant or promote a competent employee to a director’s position—or even merge with a partner company. The last thing you want to worry about is your business when you want to be spending quality time with your parent.
Finally, your kids should be a part of the process. If they are old enough to drive, they can assist either spending time with their grandparent or running errands. Some families may need to put their kids’ activities on hold or limit them until things stabilize, but giving them tasks to help with their sick loved one will help them feel included and also see the responsibilities you have as a parent. Don’t forget their needs: Depending upon their age, they may need more or less information about their loved one’s illness, or help in coping with it effectively. Let them ask questions and answer honestly and thoughtfully.
Join a Support Group. The unknowns in business are probably what keep you awake at night, so consider joining an aging parents support group—online or in person—while they are still vibrant and full of health. Nobody likes to think of their parents as vulnerable, but the group could have suggestions for things that you haven’t thought of. Overplanning never hurts. Sites for organizations like AARP, National Council on Aging, A Place for Mom, and even Facebook will have groups and support dedicated to your needs. This step will also help get you into the right space emotionally, mentally, and physically, and you can join again when your parent’s health declines.
Execute the Plan. When the event actually happens, it’s time to spring to action. Depending upon the prognosis, this could be a short-term disruption before they’re restored back to health, or a long-term illness that may get progressively worse over years instead of weeks. This is the time to be completely honest with yourself and to know how much you can handle. If your parents live in a different state, will one of you consider moving, if even temporarily? Moving them from their home also means removing them from their support network of friends, their local community, and their current medical professionals. Moving one or both into assisted living or a nursing home could mean immediately liquidating assets like homes and other valuables. Your local hospital where your parent is receiving care should have a social worker on staff who can help you weigh your options and explain what insurance will and won’t cover.
Get Assistance. If you or they have the means to do so, getting an outside helper or hiring a full-time nurse can be a godsend for everyone involved, especially if you and/or your siblings also have young children. This also allows for your visits to be as productive and as positive as possible. Even if you move your parents into your home or nearby, you won’t have to worry if they have their medication, fresh bedding, or those strawberries to go with breakfast.
Technology Is Everything. Think nanny cams for grown-ups. OK, so the technology is a bit different, but it can help you keep in touch with and monitor your parents from a distance. The health alert system (made popular by the “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” commercials) is just the tip of the technological iceberg today: Voice-activated monitors and motion-detection sensors can help if a parent can’t get out of bed or has suffered a fall, which is one of the top injuries an elderly person will endure. Audio monitors can remind a parent when to take medication or when they have an appointment. Wearable medical devices can now measure a person’s blood sugar, heart rate, and temperature without a nurse.
Consider Getting Them a Pet. There are tons of studies in peer-reviewed medical journals that tout the benefits of pet ownership and health, generally involving traditional pets like dogs and cats. I’ve seen firsthand how a cat-hating, stubborn, old-world 84-year-old man can suddenly melt when worrying about his tiny calico kitty. For parents recovering at home, a small dog or a cat can help lower blood pressure, improve mood, stimulate healing, and more. A cat may be easier on families should the parent need additional hospitalization or rehab because dogs—although awesome!—require more care. Of course, check with their doctor first in case of any immunological issues or allergies.
"Unlike your employees, you don’t have a Family Leave Act, but you do have the benefit of regular cash flow and hopefully some savings should you need to step away from your company."
Use Your Business to Your Advantage. If you are seeing firsthand how mobility can limit seniors, you have the best solution of all—access to transportation! Have you considered partnering with a local senior community to provide once-a-week trips to grocery stores or county services like the library or senior rec center? This can be a fantastic way for a healthier parent who is struggling with a partner’s illness to get out of the house and join activities with like-minded folks. For parents who are in recovery but not well enough to drive (or you’ve already taken the keys away), this can help with depression and keeping them active so they don’t become couch vegetables. Keeping their minds stimulated is half of the battle—but an important one to foment progress or help them come to terms with their new limitations.
Set Limitations. This works for both your time spent at work and time with your parents. Getting assistance from outside sources should go a long way to reassuring you that your loved one is being well taken care of so you can use those hours to focus on your business. This is especially important if you regularly work from a home office where many family members would be inclined to interrupt you. If you find yourself, however, worrying more about one when you should be focused on the other, it might be time to set some boundaries. Set limits on the time when a parent can call during the day and when you can safely allow it to go to voicemail, perhaps giving them a time frame to call another relative or friend instead. That way, you can devote all the time they need to their concerns when neither of you is stressed or needs to be somewhere else.
Go Easy on Yourself. Business owners tend to be fixers and want to solve problems, but dealing with an ill parent is an emotionally draining process for even the sunniest of personalities among us. Find time for the laughter, make space for fun, and keep it light when you can. You are human. Most of all, carve out some time for yourself so that you don’t get overwhelmed in the process (and vice versa for any siblings who may be shouldering responsibilities). Sometimes just getting a good night’s sleep or taking a night off to have dinner with some friends will be a refreshing change. It’s not selfish to take a bit of time for self-care: Remember that you can’t pour from an empty cup. [CD0519]