Parenting Aging Parents & Compassion Fatigue

We had an opportunity to talk about compassion fatigue with Mike & Kim Barnes, founders of the Parenting Aging Parents community.

What is compassion fatigue? We really like Karl LaRowe's definition. He is a licensed medical social worker who first started exploring compassion fatigue while working as a crisis counselor at an inner city emergency room and witnessing the impact and effects of clinicians being exposed to repetitive trauma. He called it a "debilitating weariness" that comes from absorbing the heartaches and suffering of others.


This is relatable for so many family caregivers, because they were ill-equipped or ill-prepared to handle the responsibilities of caregiving or simply because they've been at it for so long, and in very trying times.


We want you to know three things:

  1. Compassion fatigue is absolutely real and rampant among both family and professional caregivers.

  2. Compassion fatigue is a not a sign that you're in some way inadequate.

  3. Your body will tell you you're experiencing compassion fatigue in a number of ways (signs & symptoms).


Compassion fatigue is absolutely real and rampant among both family and professional caregivers.

  • Before and during the pandemic, caregiving responsibilities fell mostly to women. One in 10 women reported caring for a family member before the pandemic; another 1 in 10 reported gaining caregiving responsibilities as a result of the pandemic.

  • The average caregiver is a 49 year old woman providing 20 hours of unpaid care a week. (The gender disparity is about 60/40::women/men.)

  • These working daughters are employed and in the Sandwich Generation, meaning that while they are "parenting aging parents," they are also still actively parenting their kids at home.

  • Twenty-six percent are parents of a minor, and more than 50% support an adult child.

  • Fifty-four percent of women caregivers are managing one or more of their own chronic health conditions.

  • BIPOC women providing care are twice as likely as white women to have a high school education or less and minority women typically face greater challenges accessing paid sources of caregiving.

  • See our Portrait of a Caregiver series on Facebook and Instagram for more details about the financial impact caregiving has on women into retirement.

You've probably heard of the Great Resignation by now. "According to the US Department of Labor, 2.7% of the US workforce quit in April 2021, the highest ever recorded at the time," and it's only increased. Another nearly 3% of works called it quits in August 2021. Employees ages 30-45 was the predominant demographic. Tech and healthcare are the two industries hit hardest statistically, which should be no surprise as the demand for clinicians increased proportional to the demand on clinicians during the pandemic. It's easy to observe the impact on the teaching and service industries, as well. The main people quit was burnout, the successor to compassion fatigue.


Compassion fatigue is a not a sign that you're in some way inadequate. It doesn't mean that you're not doing enough. Folks often express a feeling of inadequacy over lack of resources - time, energy, patience, money. They feel overwhelmed because they can't know what they don't know and often have to make decisions quickly, with limited information, in a crisis. They express feeling guilty, which is often due to a lack of boundaries.


Culturally, we've embraced toxic positivity over vulnerability and honesty. Outwardly, we put on a "good vibes only" demeanor to hide what we feel, thereby dismissing our emotions. This is why the Parenting Aging Parents community is so great; it provides access to resources, professionals and community. The community normalizes the experience of caregiving, for better or worse.


Your body will tell you you're experiencing compassion fatigue in a number of ways. The signs and symptoms vary by person and experience, but unilaterally, they are holistic. You may start to notice your own irritability before you recognize you're not sleeping well. Or you may notice a few extra pounds before you notice chronic headaches or GI issues.

When you find yourself experiencing compassion fatigue, know you're not alone, and it's not your destiny. Subscribe to our blog and connect with us on social media to be the first to hear about how to build resiliency through self care practice.

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