There have been a series of layoffs in the media world recently and I find myself once again without a job. The last time I joined the ranks of the unemployed was when I quit a new job to take care of my mother when she was diagnosed with colon cancer just six months after my father died. I am fortunate this time around to have received a severance package that will keep me afloat temporarily while I look for new opportunities.
So many people, especially family caregivers, don’t have such a safety net when they face a job loss. I wanted to share some lessons that I learned while I was an unemployed family caregiver and a few resources for family caregivers who find themselves in challenging financial circumstances.
Unemployment is one of life’s most stressful events, and it’s even more so for those who are the primary caregivers for a loved one. Before tackling the financial challenges, make sure you have the emotional support you need. High levels of sustained stress can trigger physical symptoms, so don’t ignore your own health needs during this difficult time.
Reassess your family budget and be prepared to make some difficult cuts. Are there any expenses that could be reduced or eliminated? With many family caregivers already living paycheck to paycheck, this might feel like an exercise in futility. But reviewing your budget is essential as it will help determine what financial assistance programs you may qualify for.
Take a thoughtful approach to your job search. Being unemployed can leave one feeling desperate and willing to take the first job offer that comes along, but that can end up backfiring. Unemployment provides an opportunity to reconsider your work priorities. List your job requirements, which might include a minimum salary level, remote work, flexible schedule, etc. Highlight which are must-haves and refine your job search to meet those requirements. For example, as my mother dealt with health complications that delayed her recovery, I turned to freelance work instead of looking for another full-time job. In that moment, family caregiving took precedent and I didn’t want to begin another full-time job only to have to quit again if my mother had further medical issues. The downside was that I had to utilize my parent’s limited financial resources to help pay my own bills during that period. When my mother became more medically stable, I began my full-time job search in earnest.
It won’t last forever: I spent over a year in what I called “severe underemployment” in which I picked up several low-paying freelance gigs to help pay the bills because I couldn’t find anything better at the time. Finally I found a job through a former colleague that turned out to be an ideal fit and allowed me to work with a fantastic team.
But be prepared for further hiccups: I learned this lesson the hard way: the universe isn’t going to give you a break because you are a caregiver. Home repairs, the car breaking down, or more substantial events like divorce and illness may occur. For example, as I’m still reeling from being laid off last month, I’m having to deal with a pricey veterinary bill because my dog is sick.
Funding resources for family caregivers:
AARP: Can I Get Paid to Be a Caregiver for a Family Member?
Family Caregiver Alliance: Family Caregiver Services by State