Work/life balance. It was almost achievable when I was a single person with a new career, although I frequently veered over onto the work side of the ledger. As I got married and had kids, I learned that “balance” was really more like guardrails that allowed me to alternate between the two worlds and try to stay somewhere near the middle. The keyword here is “near.”
When my kids graduated and moved away, I thought work/life balance would be easier.
No more taxi service. No more using all my vacation time for gymnastics meets and band contests. No more scrambling for poster-board or to make salt dough for science projects. Every day would be calm and serene as I left for work the same time every day, arrived home in plenty of time to get to the gym, then into bed for a lovely eight hours of restful sleep. Idyllic, right? Turns out, not so much.
When I thought about work/life balance after age 50, I thought about the stresses I was leaving behind. I never thought about the new stresses I would face. I didn’t count on the special challenges of caring for my wonderful 77-year-old mother. I didn’t think about the frequent doctor visits, or keeping track of all the various specialists, or that I would need to be there for every appointment because she has short-term memory issues. If I’m not there, any conversation between her and the doctor is forgotten 15 minutes after the appointment ends due to the realities of mild cognitive impairment.
I remembered the panic of getting little children to the doctor before a cold got worse, but I never thought about how urgent Mom’s appointments would be when a cough threatens to become pneumonia, or when her arthritic knee pain is too much to bear another day and she has to have a steroid shot. Which, of course, she tries hard to bear until the last possible moment because she, too, was a working mother and daughter, and remembers how hard it was.
What I didn’t think about were the challenges of balancing elder-care with my more advanced career.
As a career professional, I’m in meetings much of the day, sometimes after weeks of back and forth scheduling challenges. What to do when the appointments conflict with the only time that Mom’s doctor can see her before 2025? Ok, I’m exaggerating. It’s the only time my mom’s doctor can see her in the next six months.
Somewhere in there, we try to actually fit in time to talk with one another to catch up on non-medical things. We do this usually during my weekly visits to fill her pill-minder so she can stay on track with her medication while living alone.
Did I mention I’m over 50 too?
Sure, getting to the gym is a challenge but without it, I am lethargic or hobble around the house with tight muscles. I might be getting eight hours of sleep, but it comes in chunks – falling asleep on the couch at 8 p.m., in bed from 10 p.m. to midnight, finally, fitful sleep from 1-4 a.m., then back to sleep at 5 a.m. just before the 6:15 alarm so I can rise and … shine?
For all the challenges life may present, I know this time is also a gift. I am blessed to have a mother who is still vibrant and sharp and, as soon as she gets her knee replacement next week, she will be active again. We are both members of FiftyForward Donelson Station and are very eager to participate in activities at the center again soon. It’s also a blessing to have a mother who is as conscious of how challenging this is for me and who gives me lots of grace. In her, I see myself in another 25 years and feel compelled to plan ahead for how my own daughter and I will navigate those times. But in the meantime, I’ll keep being grateful for my flexible co-workers, supportive manager, amazing doctors, reliable insurance, and my gracious, forgiving mom.
And now, I’ve got to run before I’m late for my dance class at the gym. 😊
Karin Fielder Weaver
FiftyForward Development Director