05 Nov Investing in Caregivers and Families
Statement of Becca Donaldson of Wauwatosa (at podium in photo), in support of Wisconsin Family & Medical Leave Insurance legislation
Oct 22, 2019
In my day job, I’m an attorney. Like many attorneys, it’s also my night job. In the past few years I’ve taken on another job: caregiving for my mom. Last year, a doctor confirmed that my mom has early-onset Alzheimer’s. It’s a chronic disease requiring more and more help over time. This is only headed in one direction.
Like so many in Wisconsin, my mom worked her entire life, sometimes multiple jobs once the recession hit. She also saved for her retirement so that one day she could look back on her many accomplishments and appreciate the legacy she’d left behind: owning her own home, starting her own business, raising a child, all as a single mom.
With Alzheimer’s, she doesn’t get to look back on much of anything. So now we make the most of every day, because that’s what we’ve got. One thing we do have is the love of hard work that she instilled in me.
That is why asking my employer for family care leave was one of the hardest choices I’ve ever made. I didn’t want to let my team down. I did not want to let our clients down. But I knew I needed to, because I also couldn’t let my mom down.
I could see my mom’s disease was progressing. I could see the window closing on getting things in order so that she could live as comfortably and independently as possible for as long as possible. Finally, I accepted that I needed to take time during the workday to get it all done.
I requested a switch to part-time at my job. Mercifully, my employer agreed. Of course my pay also shrunk to part-time. I had to strain what little savings I had to make it work.
I’m lucky that employer offers some paid time off. I used some vacation and sick days that I’d banked. I drained a lot of that also. I barely pieced together a solution at a job that pays more than minimum wage with vacation and sick days. I don’t know how someone could do it working minimum wage without paid leave from their employer, which is many jobs in Wisconsin. Honestly, I’m not convinced they could.
A Paid Family and Medical Leave Insurance program in Wisconsin would have made a major difference to my family. I would have taken leave much sooner if I’d had access to paid family leave. I could have gotten my mom more help, faster, without losing so much time cobbling together my plan.
With paid leave I was able to take from my employer, I could put some longer-term solutions in place for my mom. And now I’m able to return to work full-time.
I daydream about a world where people can pursue their career goals with confidence knowing they can also take care for family members. I also wish people could start small businesses knowing there are solutions if an employee has to address a family concern.
As my mom’s generation retires, we need policies that support people going to work AND that allow them to care for parents as they grow older. People who work at a job outside of the home, and serve as caregivers inside of the home, are some of the hardest working people in our economy. For those of us who want to handle our responsibilities both at work and at home, paid family and medical leave insurance is an investment so that we can cover both.