Entrepreneurs are a different breed. If you are one, then you know the many ways you stand out from others in the workforce. You are constantly planning the next steps for your success. Every conversation is an opportunity to network and expand your knowledge. One single job or client bores you because there is not enough change to keep you motivated and excited.
The demands of business ownership are many too. Employees, clients, overheads, sales. They all keep you moving forward to the next latest and greatest opportunity. You adjust your business plan constantly to maximize your value in a changing marketplace. It is truly a rewarding and dynamic opportunity to work for yourself. But it is time-consuming too. Days are often long, and the business needs you in it to keep the momentum going. It is a very personal endeavor.
When it becomes threatened by market volatility, funding rates, or unscrupulous vendors, you can usually recover with flexible changes in your operation. You’ve had enough years and experience to do this, but one threat that can cripple your organization is the cost in time, emotion, and money to care for an ailing parent when you have a business to maintain. Very few things will test your mettle more than a problem with a parent because caring for your parents, like caring for your business, is highly personal. When the two compete, it can threaten your emotional and financial stability.
We all hope our parents will be healthy and self-sufficient, and they want this, too. Most prefer to stay in their homes, if possible, and not be shuffled around to relatives or care facilities. When health issues worsen or when a sudden issue occurs, it still requires attentive care and planning to ensure the best possible results for your parents, yourself, and your business.
Caring for Them
When something happens with a parent, often suddenly, we must respond. Their safety and care are so easily compromised without oversight. Some children take this role easily, and others may have no choice if they are only children or the closest geographically. But once you realize that they need a wider network of support, consider these options of care.
- Outsource What You Can. You do not need to be the primary caregiver, and frankly, you are probably not the best person for every part of that job. You can find a trusted person who is knowledgeable and able to cooperate with your parent’s needs and your own. If money is available to provide this, that eases the cost concern while ensuring a hand at the ready when you cannot be there. In any case, develop a good list of people whose skills might be needed. Whether it’s bathing needs or a handyman who can help with simple tasks, get a good list available so that a phone call might be all the work you need to do yourself.
- Get Regular Status Updates. Without being present all the time, get information from others close to your needy parent. Maybe have a neighbor check on them each day, and arrange a weekly phone call with a physician. My siblings and I, for example, have a call rotation organized so that our mother gets a call every day from one of her kids, and the check-in burden is shared. With four of us, that’s not so difficult. Any change in care, condition, or medications is shared with everyone via email. It’s a simple system for now, but it is not foolproof, either. Still, on certain days, I don’t worry about my mom. I know someone else will contact me if there is a problem.
- Medical ID’s and Call Button Services. Parents often resist this, but if they are at home, a call-in service acts as an extra set of eyes when you cannot be there. You may get a call to follow up, but by then emergency services are activated, neighbors are informed, and you can calmly plan your next steps. It will still interrupt your working world, however, but at least you aren’t the only one expected to answer a phone call or to instigate transportation to medical care in an emergency.
Caring for Yourself
When parental health issues demand more attention, it will take a personal toll. At the very least, it will mean more regular visits to cook or clean. Perhaps doctor visits end up your responsibility in order to keep all the details straight. Regardless, we must keep our own wits and good health about us if we are to be of service to someone else. To that end, do what serves you too, so that you are better equipped mentally, emotionally, and physically to meet the increasing (and often unknown) demands.
- Get Enough Sleep. If you thought you were sleep-deprived building a business before a parent became ill, the risks from lack of sleep increase when your attention is needed for parents. Being available means more hours dedicated to them. If they haven’t moved in with you, then you are probably hustling back and forth from home to work to them; taking flights, or driving distances on weekends. The hours get eaten up pretty quickly. Sleep is essential to staying attuned to them and to work, so take care of your shut-eye hours for optimum resiliency and health. For men, eight hours is still recommended; for women, nine is preferred.
- Exercise or Get Outdoors. Physical activity and being outdoors improves stamina and attentiveness. Keep your own physical condition at its peak with exercise, a brisk walk, and a healthy regimen. Try not to cut this out of your current routine, and if it’s new, a simple walk around the block will do wonders. You’ll feel less stressed and more able to dedicate yourself to your parent’s needs.
- Fine-tune a Positive Perspective. Mindfulness is not just a catchword. It is a daily practice of being aware of your current limitations and the surrounding environment. When the strain becomes too difficult, a mindful perspective will also remind you that the current situation is not permanent. By believing you are doing what you can, the time with parents, especially in end-of-life moments, will be rewarding. Take a deep breath, and do the next best thing you are able to do. No guilt. You are enough.
Caring for Your Business Practice
Taking care of an ill parent and of yourself seems obvious. Unfortunately, the biggest loss often hits your income and business. This is really the crux of how to adjust your uncomfortable position of income generator, business owner, and caretaker. If you are an employee, FMLA laws allow up to 12 weeks of leave each year to care for immediate family members. The income will decrease, but the job will be there if you can return at the end of the time period.
If you are an entrepreneur whose business is dependent on your skills or know-how, move quickly to accommodate new ways of operating.
- Hire a Virtual Assistant. Getting someone on board who can take calls, manage schedules, and cover administrative tasks is one way to prioritize your own time. Unload the small stuff so you can focus on your best and highest use, whether that is with parents or in meetings with clients.
- Replace Yourself. You don’t need to plan an immediate succession for your business, but consider expanding or handing off some responsibilities, at least for a while. If you are a one-person plumbing shop, arrange for a replacement, even temporarily. If you are an attorney, partner with someone who can shoulder some of your cases or initiate clients. This tactic helps keep your business afloat and available to clients until you are able to dedicate your time as fully as you would like.
- Move Your Parents or Move Your Business. Neither one of these options is ideal, usually, but if the location is not critical to the services or products you provide, maintaining a better locale might be a reasonable solution. You might not want to live in Idaho or Kentucky forever, but a secondary office or new location for as long as needed is worth considering so that you are available to customers and to an ill parent.
- Up Your Tech Skills. Virtual meetings are expected these days, so spend a little time to get comfortable with them. Online document sharing, webinars, and shared calendars make a business more reliable, no matter where you are using them. Virtual conferencing could be a simple but essential method for keeping in touch with your work associates. Even sitting in a doctor’s office offers time that can be used to return emails or review proposals. Merge your disparate needs by doing two things at once.
And when you’ve done as much as you can, know that you’ve contributed in a loving way to your family and parents. Difficult times don’t last forever, but when your caretaking burden is eased with a parent, you don’t want to find yourself without your business. Take care of them. Take care of yourself. Take care of your business.