When care work suddenly becomes part of everyday life - getIT


When care work suddenly becomes part of everyday life

Makram works 60% as a DevOps Engineer at Swisscom. Things were different a few years ago. Like many of his colleagues, he worked 100% at his job. Then his marriage broke up, his parents in Tunisia fell ill and in the midst of the coronavirus turmoil and all these changes in his life, Makram himself fell ill. This not only started him travelling to his home country much more frequently to support his parents, but also began his own journey to recovery.

Makram Ghazel is a father of three. He has two children from his first marriage and a child with his new partner. When his parents became older and in need of care, the question of care and support suddenly arose. But Makram lives here in Switzerland. His parents live in Tunisia, where there is a completely different culture of how to deal with your own parents when they get older. One that actually suits him well. 

Your parents live in Tunisia and need more and more care and support. Was it clear to you from the start that you would play an important part in this? 

I grew up in Tunisia. When my grandparents got older, my father brought them to live with us at some point. We accompanied them as a family until their last breath. This is not only the expectation of Tunisian society, there are even siblings who fight over who gets to take their parents in and spend so much time with them. That's something to be proud of. 

"Anyone who has their parents in an old people's home is ashamed." 

The complete opposite of what we do. 

Society is also slowly changing in Tunisia - especially in the north. Sometimes both husband and wife work. Of course, this also causes more stress, as you can't have your parents at home at the same time. And so there are now also retirement homes in the north of the country. In the south of Tunisia, however, it is still the same as it used to be: anyone who has their parents in an old people's home is ashamed.

At some point, care work for you meant not "only" looking after your own children, but also your parents. How does that work when there are over 1,000 kilometres between them? 

I phone them once or twice a week. I get all the important information from my parents, but also from the neighbours and from my sister. She lives nearby. But she couldn't take my parents to live with her because her husband's father already lives with her. 

I try to organise a lot of things by phone from here - from doctor's appointments to local support. And I fly or drive to Tunisia as often as possible and for as long as possible. But it didn't happen all of a sudden, but bit by bit. 

How did it all start? 

I first realised that my mother wasn't coping so well. She had a lot of pain in her knee and could hardly walk. She was due to have knee surgery. Of course, I didn't just help with the administration, but also with the finances. Fortunately, my father was still very active and very healthy at the time. 

I usually went to Tunisia for two to three weeks at a time. I often took my children with me so that they could get to know my family better. Who knows what will happen. It was and is important that they also get to know this side of the family, this culture. 

And in fact, everything turned out differently than you had hoped. 

My wife separated from me. That was a huge shock for me. The time afterwards, when Corona also paralysed and shut everything down, was not easy for me. I was alone. And I felt that way too. Then there were the worries about my parents. 

"Sometimes I just wanted to leave. But I'm not one to run away." 

I briefly considered leaving everything behind and going to Tunisia - leaving everything behind. But that would have been running away. And I'm not one to run away. But this stressful family situation made me ill myself. 

In what way? 

I got psychosomatic pain, woke up in the middle of the night, had difficulty breathing. It suddenly felt like nothing was working any more. 

I was then assigned a case manager by Swisscom who took care of everything. She took care of the paperwork, but also made sure that I was able to move forward again. I also had private support.

"If only you were there" is something I often hear. 

For a while, you weren't even able to travel to Tunisia due to the pandemic situation. What did you do when the borders were open again? 

After the measures were relaxed, I went down to Tunisia straight away, of course. In the meantime, my father wasn't feeling so well either. When I saw him again after such a long time, he looked so frail - he was always strong and my role model. I myself had no ground under my feet. "If only you were there" is something I often hear. 

Do people around you sometimes ask why you don't move to Tunisia for a while? 

Of course I've definitely thought about it. What keeps me here is my family. Even though we live separately, I have two children and I wouldn't want to leave them. I also have a child with my new partner. So I'm staying in Switzerland and trying to juggle everything - the children from my first marriage, my new relationship, my third child, my job, my health and my parents in Tunisia. 

It's a sandwich situation that can be gruelling. Is it gruelling? 

I used to always try to do justice to everyone and everything and was a total multitasker. Even in business. Everyone wanted something, I was there for everyone. At work, you also have to function, build up skills and stay on the ball. Everyone demanded something and everyone had the right to do so - both the employer and the families. And my family in Tunisia doesn't just consist of my parents. There are aunts, uncles, their children... And they all think I can help them, because I work abroad and have everything. 

Job, family, your health - how do you juggle it all?

It's all interconnected. My batteries were flat because of the gruelling situation with the separation, with my illness and with my parents. I received a lot of support from my employer at the time. 

It is not a matter of course to receive this understanding and support from your employer. I was also extremely lucky to receive this support in good time. 

But the question that still remains is: who will look after my parents when they can no longer do so? They are still at home and have someone to help them with the housework. 

How compatible is your life at the moment? 

I had to learn to say "no". Some things can be put to one side. I have family here in Switzerland. And I have family in Tunisia. Then I also have my job. I can't manage all that with a 100% workload at the moment, otherwise I'll end up doing exactly the same thing again. That's why I've reduced my workload to 80%, and later even temporarily to 60% - so I have more time for my family, my children and my own relaxation. For data protection and insurance reasons, I can't work for Swisscom from Tunisia. And for financial reasons, I can't take unpaid leave. But I have been given other options that help a lot in the current situation. This company has given me a lot. 

As someone who is well organised when it comes to caring for parents, what advice would you give to others who are just getting into this situation? 

That everyone who cares for their parents should enjoy their time and take it consciously. We can now give back the time that our parents gave us. It all happens so quickly. 

I recommend everyone to cut back a little in favour of the family. It's worth so much - far more than the financial loss. 

How Swisscom enables care work:

With its Work & Care programme, Swisscom provides targeted support for employees who take on caring or nursing duties in their private lives alongside their work. 

A counselling service and flexible Work & Care working time models, e.g. a temporary reduction in the level of employment or the purchase of Work & Care holiday days, enable a better work-life balance. 

Diversity Team

Diversity Team

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