In Support of Remote Work (As a Millennial Caregiver)


Now that the pandemic is essentially behind us, workers are being ushered back into the office — including me. For the past two and a half years, working from home has saved my career and my well-being… and it has, by extension, contributed to prolonging my mother’s life. My mom is a stage 4 cancer patient, currently undergoing aggressive chemotherapy and other remediation therapies, and I have been her primary caretaker for the past three years. She is a single woman and I am her only child; not only have I always considered it my duty to take care of her but also my life’s mission, to support the person who is my best friend and closest kin in this world during her most vulnerable time.

Aside from a brief leave of absence that I took from work in the winter of 2019, I have never had to resign. That’s because the pandemic suddenly occurred in March of 2020, and remote work replaced traditional in-office work overnight as the world shut down. Even though I was still obligated to care for my mother, remote work made it suddenly possible for me to do both: stay at home with my mom and take her to her doctor’s appointments while also continuing to be a productive employee at my company. And later on, as my mom’s illness progressed, I still didn’t have to give up my job. I took meetings and calls from hospital rooms and emergency room lobbies, taking time off when I had to but continuing to work into the wee hours of the night whenever I had the chance.

Did my work performance suffer? Absolutely not — and my colleagues would likely tell you the same. During this time, I even managed to undergo a career transition within my company, something I certainly couldn’t have done if I had been mandated to come physically into the office five days a week. Within the past year, I’ve managed to take on a completely new role, learn fresh skills, establish different relationships, and meet my manager’s expectations, all the while continuing to care for my mom at home. I would try to squeeze her doctor’s appointments during my lunch hour or early morning before work (my mom’s cancer has rendered her unable to drive or walk for long distances — ergo, I’ve become her chauffeur). Although my mother’s needs will always come first to me, I have never once failed to meet my goals for work or stopped pushing myself to succeed. As a product manager, I have certainly honed my abilities to multitask, compartmentalize, and prioritize, in all areas of my time-constrained life.

So why didn’t I just resign? Because I am twenty-nine (twenty-six at the time that my mom received her diagnosis). I have my whole career ahead of me, a career I’ve worked so hard for the past two decades to achieve — a career that I love. Work (along with friends, relationships, and my love of writing) has kept me sane during what has been the most difficult period of my young adult life. I know that I am fully capable of being a full-time caretaker and a full-time employee, something I have proved over the past three years. Even when my mom had brain surgery, even when she suffered multiple rounds of radiation (requiring us to visit the hospital daily for a month), even when she was hospitalized for sepsis, C. diff, for severe anemia leading to shock (the list could go on…), I still never gave up my job. I never let whatever I was going through personally seep into work — in fact, I barely told anyone at the office at all what I was going through.

I am so grateful to my company and my team for understanding my difficulties. My team and all the amazing work that they do has kept me motivated to want to continue to perform at my best. If we were all employed by someone like Elon Musk (who is ruthless about return-to-office work culture), our collective economy and workforce would, unfortunately, lose a ton of talented and productive employees who, due to personal circumstances, cannot physically work in an office. I know that my situation is not unique — there are countless caretakers, parents, and people who are suffering from disabilities themselves that prevent them from coming into an office. Remote work has made it possible for all these people to continue to earn a living and put food on the table while being with their loved ones. But I fear that too many people are silent about their plights and that employers will continue to go on and mandate all workers return ubiquitously to the office, ignorant of how devastating those consequences could be.

Let me caveat that I believe in-office collaboration certainly has its merits and I would love nothing more than to be able to return to the office full-time one day in the future. But that day is not now. I may miss out on certain things, like big meetings or events or water cooler chatter — but those things pale in comparison to the time I get to spend with my mom during what could be the final chapter of her life. So I urge employers to be sympathetic and to understand that remote work is not just an option for making life convenient — it can be a dire necessity. Illness and caring for one’s parents is inevitable and hard enough on its own… work doesn’t have to be.

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