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How can I go back to the office when that means leaving Mum on her own?

Carer working from home

Dear Lesley

I moved in with my elderly mother at the height of the pandemic as this made it easier to keep an eye on her. Plus I didn’t have to tell anyone at work how much she’d gone downhill or ask for time off for hospital visits etc. which felt a bit ‘career-limiting’. I just log on in the evening to catch up. 

It reduced the worry although Mum doesn’t really understand that I’m working and thinks I’m available 24/7. I’ve got into the habit of switching off the Zoom camera or sound if Mum comes into the room in a tizzy or shouts out for help. 

Now my employer is asking people to go back to the office and it feels like there is pressure to do so. I’d love to see my colleagues again but I’m really worried about leaving Mum on her own. What should I do?


Dear Wendy

That’s a tough one and will be familiar to many people who have taken on caring responsibilities during the pandemic.

You give the impression that your organisation will not be sympathetic to your situation and that not going back into the office could hurt your career. It’s true that some employers are not very supportive. But many are, especially now when COVID has meant a complete rethink of how the working world operates. In some areas, there are also staff shortages so they may be keen to try and keep you.

You may also feel embarrassed about having to talk about your mother’s health and wonder how much to disclose. A good manager or HR adviser should understand and help you manage your return to the office .

Think constructively about what you need as a working carer: continued flexibility, more of a part-time arrangement, processes for handling emergencies, opportunities to delegate? You could suggest a trial period of 3 months to see how this goes. Many companies are introducing a hybrid model where people work from home half the week – could this work for you?

This may also be a good time to think longer term. Has your Mum had a social services assessment? If not, it would be a useful to ask for one. She may be entitled to carer visits paid for by the council or maybe she can afford private carers. This would mean that the responsibility is not solely yours and could be the beginning of a plan for the future. If your Mum has had an assessment previously, it may be time for another one to review that decline you mentioned. There may also be additional financial support and help for you as a carer.

Don’t forget that your own mental health is part of the bigger picture. Fortunately it’s far less taboo to talk about this post COVID and many employers are now fully aware of well-being issues. You’ve mentioned wanting to see your colleagues again – many employees have missed the socialising and networking that goes on in the workplace.

You’ll have a good sense of how well your Mum would respond to visits from carers and if you’re happy to take this step. Keep in mind the alternative – permanently working from home and combining this with full time care could become overwhelming.

If your manager or your employer don’t seem very proactive, check your legal rights. Be assertive but try to collaborate and show that you’re keen to keep your job. If you can’t find a solution, you may have to make the difficult decision whether to give up work, find another job that’s more accommodating or perhaps look at options like self-employment.

Do try to find someone to talk to about this. The anxiety is completely understandable but it may be preventing you from finding a ‘good-enough’ answer to your dilemma.

Hopefully you’ll be able to look at the options, talk through the pros and cons and find the right way forward for you and your Mum in these uncertain times.


Dr Lesley Trenner is an eldercare coach with extensive qualifications and experience in life coaching. Lesley provides one-to-one help for people who are struggling to cope with the ’emotional rollercoaster’ of eldercare or balance caring responsibilities with a  busy career. You can talk to Lesley via Zoom or on the phone. Email Lesley or call 07919 880 250 for a free introductory chat. You can also visit her Facebook page.

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Image by Amvia via Unsplash


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