Almost Half Of Working Caregivers Say They Can't Do 2021 Again

Almost Half Of Working Caregivers Say They Can’t Do 2021 Again

Mother carrying sleepy daughter
Inti St Clair/Getty

It’s not just you: a survey found 42% of working parents just absolutely can’t take another year of this

It’s now been almost two years since this whole pandemic thing started, and working caregivers, including working parents, are just about done with the stress, anxiety, and workload that’s come along with the [worldwide] deadly virus. That seems obvious if you happen to be a working caregiver, but the numbers from a new study are particularly jarring: 4 out of 10 caregivers with jobs can’t take another year of this [waves hands about vaguely].

Specifically, according to the latest Fidelity Investments American Caregiver study, 42 percent of respondents said that they would “fall apart” if school or professional childcare doesn’t return to normal soon. And consequentially, 43 percent said that they would need to choose between their jobs or their caregiving responsibilities in the next year if life didn’t normalize and the pandemic didn’t subside. A solid 58 percent of caregivers feel they don’t have enough time to handle their own mental health along with caregiving responsibilities.

Basically, the pandemic and 2020-2021 have been a perfect storm, especially for those holding down jobs while caring for kids, parents, and grandparents. And the country’s infrastructure isn’t helping.

“Structurally and institutionally, the U.S. doesn’t have a lot of support. Families are on their own to figure it out,” Meredith Stoddard, Vice President of Life Events Planning at Fidelity Investments, told Scary Mommy. “Women are more likely to be overwhelmed because there’s societal expectations that women are supposed to do it all, and the reality of pulling it off is different. Some of it is self imposed and some is imposed by family and friends.” 

Sue Renner, the Executive Director of the David and Laura Merage Foundation, says that COVID-19 has actually done a lot to expose the country to the child care issues that have existed in our country for decades.

“The pandemic was a bit of a silver lining,” Renner tells Scary Mommy. “Finally the masses were starting to see and feel the effect. It’s kind of the frog in boiling water, you have your first child, you put a patchwork of care together, you go into debt a little. But with the pandemic, it was a fast and furious experience, and what it really shined a light on is how fragile the care and education market is. When things shut down, there was no backstop. Really what it did was gave us an ability to talk about the challenges we’ve had in this sector from the beginning of time.” 

In other words: working caregivers have always had an extremely hard time balancing their careers and finding care for their loved ones, but this has pushed a lot of people over the edge and exposed the crisis more fully.

“Parents are the folks that have been the most burned,” says Renner. “By the false sense that there’s a childcare system. It’s a private, under-performing, and primarily failed market. Parents have a constrained set of resources, they’re at their lowest earning years, they have very little time, and they’re also limited geographically.” 

Yes, that sounds right.

While Renner agrees that the combination of governmental failures and private company failures are at the heart of the issue, even the fact that we’re talking about it right now is a good thing.

“I think it’s so encouraging that parents are speaking out about this,” she says. “We are trying to flip the script from it being a parent financial failing to a societal failing. Parents have been reticent because they think it’s a personal failure. So you keep it from your employer and sadly a lot keep it from their own family members. The fact that now parents now are talking about it is a really important change. It’s almost like a lifting off of them some of this burden. To say: this is a shared problem.” 

And there’s also a bit more optimism

The news wasn’t all bad. A solid 68 percent of the employed who also care for family members said that they are ready for whatever challenges arise in the next year. We’re not sure what stimulants they’re taking, but we are very impressed with their attitudes. But even in addition to those who are ready to roll forward with whatever might meet us in 2022, there are other reasons to be optimistic.

A number of corporations and workplaces have stepped up in the last two years to provide better and more flexible working environments for parents and caregivers, and we’re not just talking about Target deciding to close on Thanksgiving every year from now on. Many employers have permanently changed their work from home policies, increased family leave, and created child care policies — and with workforce shortages, even the ones that won’t make policy changes out of the goodness of their hearts may be forced to offer better benefits just to get workers in the door.

And while we can’t easily change national policy tomorrow or what our CEO at work will do next week, there are a few little things we can do ourselves to pull ourselves up by our boot straps if 2022 continues down the path of sucking.

The best place to start? Asking for help from your employer, who might have options that you don’t know about or that you feel too embarrassed to actually use. Take your vacation days. Speak up and make suggestions.

“A lot of times there are workplace benefits available, but people aren’t aware of them,” Stoddard says. “One company offers one package, some might have fabulous benefits. It’s on individuals to figure out what’s available to them.”

In fact, the Fidelity study found that men with care responsibilities were more likely to ask about company options than women (42 percent vs. 37 percent) — perhaps because women feel more pressure to do it all without asking for help, and perhaps because they’re more likely to be met with sexism in the workplace.

“There is no white knight who is going to save us all,” says Stoddard. “We have to save ourselves and advocate for the change we want. It can feel scary to advocate against your boss, your city government, or your school system and say: we need more support. But sometimes you have to advocate for yourself and educate people.”