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The Work+Life Conundrum: Struggle Now or Down the Road?

If you are in life stage: One Foot on the Off Ramp Posted August 4th, 2015
By Kathryn Sollmann

Recently I read that millennials are more focused on “finding the work that fits your life” than their mothers were at the same age. In my Baby Boomer generation women left the workforce in large numbers to be with family—and through my coaching practice I know that these off-rampers still tend to think that work is only an inflexible “corporate” endeavor. Millennial women, on the other hand, are just leaving inflexible jobs, not leaving the workforce altogether.

That’s a good decision—and perhaps, as a result, millennial women will age with the ability to always support themselves and ID-10047005their families, fund all of life’s “you never knows” and save enough money for a retirement that could last 30 years or more. Too many women in my generation have too little financial security.

Though many millennials (ages 18 to 34) seem to be headed in the right personal finance direction, there are still quite a few women in their 30s and 40s who struggle with the challenge of integrating work and family. Ultimately, many still make the decision that it is not possible to “have it all”. It is very possible, however, because so many women do not have the choice to opt out, and they find ways to care for both families and a job.

The more important decision women have to make is whether they want to struggle now or later. I would argue that when you are young, you have the energy, mental capacity and resourcefulness to find a way to make work work—and, to the best of your ability, lock in financial security. It is so much harder to be older—in your 70s, 80s or 90s—without enough financial resources, with health issues, with fewer opportunities to find paid employment and perhaps no other option than asking adult children for financial support (at a time when they need to stay on track for funding their own long retirements).

It is true that many people are working long past the traditional retirement age of 65—yes, for continued fulfillment…but also because retirement coffers are low. It seems like a logical plan, but it’s not always a viable option. Women who say “I’ll work again when my children are out of the house” roll the dice for two reasons—their own health and the health of aging parents. Many women find that when their first caregiving job ends (children), their second caregiving job begins (aging parents). The average age when a woman assumes a caregiving role is 46—and that doesn’t necessarily mean it is a full-time job. Even a “supervisory” caregiving role (one where you are supplementing or overseeing paid care) can take a big chunk of your daily time. It is far easier to work during Caregiving Job #1 since, in most cases, raising children is an experience not involving illness, disability or grave, sustained worry. With even the best of children we all experience bumps in the road, but the total transformation of parents from vitality to frailty, the often long string of falls, illnesses and general discomfort, issues of senility, depression or Alzheimer’s, decisions of where to live and who will provide daily care and the psychological toll of watching beloved parents slip away is more life-encompassing than making meals, carpooling and overseeing homework day to day.

If we somehow escape the care of elderly parents, it’s also just a fact that as we age, we all face more of our own health issues that could make it impossible to generate any significant income in our late 60s and 70s. The EBRI Retirement Confidence Survey notes that due to retirement savings shortfalls 1 out of 3 people expect to continue working beyond the traditional retirement age of 65. But the road to possible retirement hell is paved with good intentions. You don’t know if you will have the energy or the health to work at an advanced age. The rub is that many people are forced to retire fully due to a layoff, a health issue or disability.

None of us can predict what the future holds, which means that when it comes to generating an income, there’s no time like the present. Find even small, but flexible opportunities to work as much as you can for as long as you can from college through retirement years. There isn’t a woman on the planet who will say that it’s easy to blend work and family, but it has to be easier than all the ramifications of financial insecurity when you’re facing huge elder care bills and having trouble tying your own shoes. —KAS

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