Having chosen the child-free life, I didn’t expect that caring for loved ones would play any significant role in my career path. But I didn’t factor in my mom and dad. Like many in my generation, I never fully considered the potential need to care for my aging parents.
Foregoing children was a complicated, difficult decision for me. It was riddled with fears about my parenting abilities, an irrational terror of labor pains, and the reality that I simply never felt ready. But once the decision was behind me, I enjoyed my marriage and career largely unfettered, supportive of my colleagues with kids, yet never imagining that I’d experience anything like the comings and goings of maternity leave that presented them with so many challenges. That is, until my parents began to age.
My father’s health was the first to go. Congestive heart failure made heart attacks an almost annual event. I found myself bolting out of meetings and onto flights from San Francisco to Boston in response to my mother’s hysterical, long-distance calls saying, “This is it!” Over 10 years of these 911 alerts, during which my dad also underwent a number of complex surgeries, I became that colleague who cries wolf. Though my co-workers were always supportive, I saw slight eye-rolls each time I had to try to do my job from 3,000 miles away because my dad had been hospitalized and was on his deathbed. Again.