Although the title “caregiver” might seem simple, ask anyone who has walked a mile in those shoes and they’ll tell you that the work is anything but easy. Being a family caregiver can take an emotional, physical and financial toll. Through our Parent/Caregiver Employee Resource Network (ERN), Gresham Smith aims to provide both internal and external resources as well as emotional support opportunities to employees who find themselves in this role.
We recently sat down with Matt Freudenthal, chair of our Parent/Caregiver ERN and a senior systems analyst in Gresham Smith’s Information Technology department, to discuss the ERN and their plans for 2022. Here are some highlights from our conversation.
How would you sum up the Parent/Caregiver ERN?
Matt Freudenthal: The overarching goal of our ERN is to serve as a resource that focuses on the firm’s existing policies, infrastructure and culture, as well as external engagement, with an emphasis on improving quality of life from a caregiver perspective—whether it’s looking after aging parents, a sick loved one, a toddler, or a child with an illness or disability.
What motivated you personally to get involved with this ERN?
Matt: This particular group really resonated with me because of my daughter. Even before I had children, I was interested in early child development and served as board chair for a Nashville nonprofit that works in this area. I’ve always loved children but truly thought I wasn’t going to have a child of my own until I turned 45 and was blessed with a daughter. When she was first diagnosed with epilepsy, my wife and I didn’t know where to turn for support, which really drove home the importance of having those types of resources readily available and easy to access.
Matt and his daughter Olivia.
What types of external engagement does the Parent/Caregiver ERN aim to get involved in?
Matt: Gresham Smith has partnered over the years with charitable organizations that help caregivers in tough times, including March of Dimes, Ronald McDonald House, United Way and Renewal House, which aligns with our ERN’s objective to accentuate the firm’s involvement with those types of organizations.
Gresham Smith spruces up Renewal House’s garden beds in support of The Community Foundation of Middle Tennessee’s 2019 “The Big Payback” online giving event.
What other areas is the ERN looking to address?
Matt: When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we all had to face a new normal when the firm transitioned to working from home. Now, we’re facing another new normal in 2022 with our return to the office and our hybrid in-office/remote work approach. It’s wonderful to have that ability but what will that look like?
Family dynamics have shifted since March 2020, especially for those who have been taking care of children or sick/older parents. One of our goals is to determine how to effectively address this shift as it relates to our hybrid schedule. The Parent/Caregiver ERN will be looking for ways to help employees work better as well as live better as they care for family members through yet another season of change.
Anything else you’d like to share about the Parent/Caregiver ERN?
Matt: Right now our “antennas” are up! We’re listening carefully for the things that are important to Gresham Smith employees and bringing what we hear back to the group for consideration in terms of potential focus areas. I’m excited that this ERN gives us the opportunity to learn from our co-workers’ personal experience of either being a parent or a caregiver and gives us the chance to get to know one another in a much deeper way—there’s an intrinsic value in that.
When you can connect with someone who has “walked the walk” in terms of what you’re going through with a family member, they can offer support and insight on a whole different level. And it’s often easier to approach somebody that you know and work with for advice than to go to a perfect stranger. That’s why we’re looking at forming some internal groups next year that are tied to external groups known for providing support in specialized areas, such as elder care, so we can provide our employees with that extra level of resources.
“Right now our ‘antennas’ are up! We’re listening carefully for the things that are important to Gresham Smith employees and bringing what we hear back to the group…”
What have you personally learned that you could share with others?
Matt: I’m the parent of a 7-year-old with epilepsy. I know how it feels to stay up at night worrying and caring for a child both during and after seizures. I’ve learned how difficult it can be to create a balance between keeping Olivia safe and simply letting her be a kid and develop her independence.
I’ve also learned how an illness can impact an entire family. I watched my parents take care of my grandmother for 12 years after she suffered a series of massive strokes and was unable to live on her own. I saw the struggles they went through for a protracted amount of time as they cared for her, and witnessed firsthand just how much of a burden it became for them—which in turn affected me.
When you look at it objectively, all of us are connected in some way because we all have families and sometimes find ourselves in similar situations to other families when it comes to elder care, child care or an illness. Ultimately, I’ve learned that the act of caregiving is both challenging and rewarding and very much a labor of love that touches on those six degrees of separation.
Being aware of the resources available to you, and being able to talk with others who truly understand what you’re going through not only helps validate your own experience and makes you feel less isolated, but also gives you that much-needed connection and support. And that’s what we plan to offer with this ERN.