Women in our country have gotten a lot of attention lately with focus on sexual harassment, domestic violence and unequal treatment by employers. There is another important area that is not getting attention in the focus on women: the role of caregiver for aging parents. This role, too, spreads responsibility very unequally on women compared with men in many families.
At AgingParents.com, we work with families of aging parents all across the US and in doing so, we see common themes. Most often (in our unofficial poll, it’s about 85-90% of the time), women take the lead in spotting warning signs that an aging parent needs help or is going to need help soon. Responsible women, often successful in business, professions, or any work are the ones to bring this up and let other family members know what they see. The response typically is that other family members say in so many words, “OK, go ahead and take care of it.” Unless these forward-thinking women in families insist on equal participation by all capable siblings or others involved, the burden falls squarely on themselves. They take on the caregiving, they quit jobs to do so, they cut back on work and fill the need in the family.
There are many responsible sons, to be sure. There are many brothers, nephews, and uncles who share the load right along with sisters, but from our admittedly limited perspective, they seem to be in the minority. Here are some typical excuses were given by the less-than-involved that we hear repeatedly:
“She’s better at doing that than I am”
“I’m really busy”
“She lives closer”
“I don’t like to see Mom (or Dad) in that condition”
“I make more money than she does, so it’s better if she’s the one to quit her job to take care of our parents”
“She’s a woman and that’s really her thing, so she should do it”
The last comment, jarring as it is, reflects the gender bias that is so much a part of our society’s view of women. Some things, like taking care of frail aging parents, are “our job” which excuses men, in their minds, from having to do that work. The shirking of the burden of caregiving based on gender should no longer go unquestioned.
Our current political dialogue can be beneficial to anyone facing the care of an aging parent if we take the opportunity to raise awareness of inherent gender bias. It is time to overthrow the status quo here too. Taking on responsibility for the care and safety of aging loved ones is everyone’s responsibility. If a male family member lives farther away than a female family member from the aging parent, and hands-on care is not practical, the more distant person can give money, pay for relief caregivers, or take time off and pitch in on your personal or vacation time from your job. That’s what women often do without being asked.
Those who live at a distance from the aging parent and sometimes from the sibling who is the primary caregiver, can pay toward elders’ support, manage the bills, set up appointments, arrange transportation, offer home maintenance, grocery delivery or whatever is needed that can be handled remotely. The excuses for avoidance do not stand up. Every unimpaired person in a family can do something.
On International Women’s Day let’s turn our attention to how inequality in families affects women in their role as caregivers for aging loved ones right here at home. We can change this, just as we are changing the way women are treated in the workplace. To get there, we must stand up and speak up. It’s time.
To learn more about how we help families sort out the challenges of caregiving, visit our website: www.agingparents.com .We also wrote a book that helps answer all your questions and guide you in the right direction: “The Family Guide To Aging Parents, “click Here to learn more.
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