How many family caregivers are women? Who most often takes the lead in planning for and carrying out the needed tasks to manage the needs of an aging parent at home? Women often take on the primary childcare role in families and when parents age, they are most often the ones who take on the primary parent care role too. We see a bias in our society that considers caregiving “a woman’s job”. Is it?
In families where there are no female adult children, I see many courageous and willing men who do the job of aging parent care very well. But they remain in the minority. At AgingParents.com, where we consult with families of aging parents and other loved ones, the one who makes the first contact for advice is nine times out of ten the daughter or daughter-in-law of the elder.
The media perpetuates the notion that women are the caregivers in every ad depicting the subject. Ads depict women working for home care agencies, women working in assisted living homes, women as aides and nurses. The images tell us that men don’t often do this work.
Today we recognize the power of women all over the world. And here I acknowledge the tireless work of women caregivers in families everywhere. It’s not only the care of aging parents we see. Women are in situations where they still have kids of their own at home with the added responsibility for their own aging parents at the same time: the so-called “sandwich generation”. They’re doing double duty. Sometimes the men in the family are not even paying attention to the disparity in their roles.
When it comes to the hands-on work of tending to a frail, dependent or confused elder it is usually the woman who does that work. There is an inherent unfairness in families with both women and men, adult children of aging parents, when the men expect the women to do the hard part of the caregiving.
In one of our client families, two of the elder’s daughters have taken on all the needed tasks for a mother with dementia. The Mom lives with one daughter who supervises the needed 24/7 care. The other daughter handles all the finances and bookkeeping. They have a brother, but he is “not able to contribute”.
In another client family, the daughter, a single mom with a teen at home is taking on the many-layered tasks of figuring out how to manage care and finances for both of her parents. Her father is in fragile mental health and her mother has Alzheimer’s disease. Her brother never initiates anything, neither discussing nor offering assistance to his sister with the issues both parents have.
There are many excuses the men in these families make. “I have a really busy job” is one. “I can’t deal with this” is another one. “You’re better at taking care of Mom than I am” is yet another excuse for failing to act. There is no shortage of excuses that perpetuates the bias that caregiving is a woman’s job and the men are somehow supposed to be excused from the work because of it.
In any situation where it is feasible, women as caregivers need to speak up and insist that male siblings share the load. You have a voice. It is possible to achieve balance with caregiving, taking the caregiving responsibility more equally with brothers, cousins or others. Whether you get cooperation or not, at least ask for it.
Today we celebrate the achievements of women, and recognize the need for gender equality. At home, with aging loved ones who are living long and needing help, we need to recognize the struggle women have in efforts to get their male counterparts to do some of the work of caregiving. To the men with aging parents who require caregiving, step up. See the unfairness in expecting the women in your family to take on the tasks without your participation. Caregiving has many facets and many chores that can go on for months or years. Everyone can do something to help! If you support women on International Women’s Day, be sure you are doing your part in your own family to achieve gender balance in the care of aging parents. International Women’s Day can be a day to wake up and initiate doing your share of what’s needed. Here are some words to try out: “Sis, what can I do to help?”