Role Reversal: Equilibrium – Navigating Your Work-Life Balance When You Live with An Aging Parent

by David Hibbard

Perhaps it’s just my own view of the world today, or maybe it is indeed a reality, but it seems our lives are busier than they have ever been. The reasons for that could be the topic of an entirely separate article. But whatever the reasons, many folks today seem to be in a constant mad scramble to cram as much as they can into their waking hours.

If you live with a parent, or if you don’t live with them but have some level of responsibility for their well-being, the demands on your time can seem even more taxing. The reality of time as a finite commodity is emphasized even further if you are working, either part-time or full-time. In my case, I have a round-trip commute of approximately two hours each day to my job, so finding quality time to spend with my mother when I get home, and to lend a hand to anything that needs to be done around the house, can be challenging.

Juggling the expectations you have for your own career as well as your desire to be there for your parent is just that – a juggling act. Here are a few tips from my own experience that can hopefully help you find the right balance for your own situation:

Assess your parent’s needs: How much help does your parent need from you on a daily basis? Are they still independent and active, or do you assist with some of their daily tasks? In my own case, I live with my mother but am fortunate that she is still entirely independent and doesn’t require help with things like getting dressed or going to the store. Still though, because I live with her, I want to help with certain tasks. And that’s my point here – discern the difference between what you need to help your parent with and what you want to help with. This will help you allocate your time most effectively.

Talk with your parent about it: Make sure your assessment of your mom’s or dad’s reliance on you is in line with how they see it. Ask questions, and let them ask questions of you – you might not even realize they would appreciate your help with balancing their checkbook until you ask.

Then talk about it more: Have a conversation with your parent about the demands of your job outside the house. Talk about the time constraints you may have at home because of your career. This is also an opportunity to plan and avoid, as much as possible, conflicts between your work and home responsibilities. We find it helpful to sit down with a calendar periodically to look at the next few months. I am able to outline for mom the dates and times I will have to work in the evenings or on weekends so there are fewer surprises for her. If there are medical appointments or other events my mother would like me to attend with her, I can try to arrange my schedule accordingly. This brings up another point…

Talk with your employer about it: Be upfront with your place of work about your role as a caregiver or an additional support to your parent. Again, planning is the key here because the demands of every workplace are different. Keep the lines of communication open and talk well in advance with your employer about any absences you anticipate because of your parental obligations. Demonstrate to your employer that you can be trusted with time away, too; as soon as you return, always follow through on any work tasks that had to wait while you were gone.

Continue to assess your family’s situation: If life teaches us anything, it’s that nothing stays the same. Your parent’s needs will continue to change, and it’s very likely your responsibilities at work will continue to fluctuate, so revisit the balance you are maintaining between the two on a regular basis. Every family is different, and what we need will be different at various times. Maybe the day will come when you want to cut back from full-time to part-time work to be more available to your parent; if so, begin planning for that now. Whether you work with a financial planner or manage your own investments, look far down the road at your own goals and how you can best position your family to get there.

Share your role reversal stories with contributing writer David Hibbard. Email him at: