The Daughter Track

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • The title of an article in the July/August 2006 issue of More magazine provides an instant hook for women in my situation. Entitled “The Daughter Track,” the article by Mary Lou Quinlan carries a subtitle that states, “Caring for an aging parent tests us in ways we never imagined. Will it force us out of jobs we love and need?”

    The article describes the competing priorities that many women in their 40s and 50s face – focusing on careers that they have built from scratch and also increasingly caring for aging parents. My experience (as well as that of some of my friends) echoes the challenges that Quinlan recounts.
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    In my case, I was in a fast-paced position that required many hours on the job and lots of travel. However, my job (along with positions held by 12 wonderful colleagues) ended in June 2005 due to loss of funding. I was devastated at the time, but in retrospect, now realize that the job loss was actually a blessing. Once the rug was pulled out from under my professional life, I made the fateful decision to focus on finishing graduate school coursework. Little did I know that less than three months later, I would be a full-fledged member of Quinlan’s “daughter track” when my mom was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s Disease.

    Once Mom’s diagnosis was made and the realization that life as I knew it had completely changed, I focused on rearranging my priorities. Before, I would spend my energy on work projects and focus on reading the latest, greatest research for graduate school. Now, my energy level was zapped due to the emotional and mental toll of caretaking. I barely scraped by during the school year, focusing more on Mom and my coursework then on my “work,” a graduate assistantship.

    Coursework continued to be a priority because it allowed me to mentally focus on something different in order to relieve the burden of caretaking. The courses encouraged my brain to work from its analytical side, which proved useful in many situations with my mom when I might otherwise let my emotions carry me away.

    Then came the key decision point this spring – how do I make a living and still take care of Mom (and finish my doctorate)? Obviously, I must face the key issue of keeping myself economically afloat as Mom’s medical needs increase (which will eventually take more of my time). At the moment, I am stringing together a number of part-time jobs. I have had sincere conversations with each of the organizations for which I am doing work. During these conversations, I have explained Mom’s situation and noted that I am the only person on call most days if she has an emergency situation. I’ve also built relationships with the nursing home staff; that way, I have a “Team Mom” to provide support.

    In the past year, my priorities have changed. Never before would I have described a family crisis during a job interview; I was raised by a mother who wanted me to be professionally available at all times for the company. But that was then and this is now. I am a caretaker with increasing familial responsibilities, and that has altered the leading responsibility in my life. As Mary Lou Quinlan explained, “No matter how successful I become, I am their daughter, first, last and always.”

  • How do you balance caregiving with the rest of your responsibilities? Tell us in the message boards.
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Published On: July 20, 2006