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Female Caregivers Must Care for Themselves Too

Feb. 9, 2016
Personal Finance
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By Mary Ballin

Learn more about Mary on NerdWallet’s Ask an Advisor

It’s not just a stereotype or tradition that casts women in the role of caregivers — it’s life.

Women provide the bulk of care needed for children, spouses, relatives in ill health, and aging parents. About 60% of the 43.5 million American adults who provided unpaid care in 2015 were women, according to a study by the National Alliance for Caregiving and AARP. Yet too often the women who are so adept at caring for others fall short of adequately caring for themselves.

Adverse effects

Multiple studies show that caregivers’ physical, emotional and financial health can suffer because of their roles. Most caregivers work — many in full-time jobs — and must balance professional demands and personal lives with their caregiving tasks. Often, their own needs fade into the background.

Women provide billions of dollars’ worth of care each year, and the personal cost to caregivers includes a toll on their time, emotional well-being, physical health and even retirement savings. Financial planners, especially those who specialize in advising professional women and women who are experiencing life transitions, often witness firsthand the struggles even the most capable women face when balancing so many demands on their time.

Women commonly juggle many tasks, but it’s essential for them to take time for themselves — or else risk reaching a tipping point that compromises their mental, emotional and financial health. Here are some tips to help women take care of themselves:

1. Make the time for ‘me time’

Professional, personal and caregiving demands can be time-consuming. According to the National Caregiving Alliance, three out of four caregivers are employed full time while still providing about 20 hours per week of unpaid care. Guilt and stress are common responses when you feel like you’re not managing your time perfectly. When you’re at work, you feel like you should be at home. When you’re at home, you feel as if there’s more you could be doing at work. But it’s critical to decompress when you can, even if it’s just for an hour a week.

If exercise invigorates you, make your workout your “me time.” Go to the gym by yourself and zone out. If that idea sounds like just one more obligation, take a moment to think about your favorite restorative activities. Carve out some time to get your nails done, take in a movie, read a new book by an author you admire, or go for a walk somewhere restful. The point is to spend that time on no one but you.

2. Let the kids grow up

Parents of adult children need to know when it’s time to step out of the role of caretaker. The reality of modern caregiving is that it’s not a permanent situation — although it can stretch on a long time for parents who don’t allow their children to grow up. You take care of your children to get them to adulthood. Once they’ve achieved it, step back and let them manage their own lives. Refocus on yourself and what you need, confident that you gave your kids the best possible foundation for making their own decisions.

3. Learn to accept — and use — help

If you feel you’re struggling, look for and accept help. Yes, you can have it all, but you can’t do it all. You may not be comfortable sharing caregiving duties with others, but hiring professionals can help make other areas of life easier. Leave labor-intensive tasks that are lower on your list of priorities, like cleaning the house, to paid professionals. Get help with important, time-consuming tasks like managing your finances and planning for retirement. Women caregivers are more likely than men to cut back on their paid jobs, which can compromise their retirement savings, according to the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement.

The bottom line

Everyone wants to feel like they are taking care of those they love, but for caregiving women with demanding roles, it’s important to include yourself in the list of people you’re taking care of. By caring for yourself and preserving your emotional, mental and financial well-being, you are taking care of all the people who rely on you too.

Mary Ballin, CFP, is a client advisor with Mosaic Financial Partners. Learn about the Mosaic Financial Fitness Challenge.

Image via iStock.