The Times on Women Retiring To Take Care of Parents

[I saw this posted by Kathy Geier on a mailing list, in response to a New York Times article entitled “Forget the Career. My Parents Need Me at Home.” As Echidne points out, this seems to be the latest in an ongoing series of Times articles warning women away from high-powered careers. Kathy kindly gave me permission to reprint her post on “Alas.” –Amp]

I am not denying that care for the elderly is a huge problem in our society and that women bear the brunt of it. Indeed, I and many other feminists have worked to try to change our society and the workplace so that the burden of care work does not fall entirely on women’s shoulders, and so that women will find it easier to combine work and family responsibilities.

But as I said in my original post about this article, and I’ve said about the others in this genre, the idea that there is some sort of “trend” whereby significant numbers of professional class women (and it’s always only the professional class women we are talking about, in NewYorkTimesLand, anyway) are suddenly deciding to dump their careers because they find true happiness only in caring for families, is a crock. I know of no evidence, no research, no numbers that support this idea. And none of these articles have ever pointed to any good evidence that it is a trend.

The survey that the bogus Yale article was based on contained leading questions and was based on a response rate of well under 30%. My survey research prof says that any time you have a response rate of 50% or under, the results are highly questionable because there’s a strong likelihood of selection bias.

Aside from my political objections, this kind of thing is just amazingly shoddy journalism. Anecdotes do not equal a trend, and I would have hoped that New York Times reporters and editors, of all people, would understand that.

Yes, many women experience intense work/family conflict, and some of them drop out of the workforce because of it. But I have yet to see any evidence that more women are doing this than in the past. And I’ve seen tons of evidence that more women than ever before are becoming highly educated and entering the professions.

What I hate about these stories, besides the bullshit “trend” aspect, is that they are always framed as being purely about women’s personal “choices.” The context is completely depoliticized. In terms of elderly parents, for example, no one asks why the sons and brothers are not doing more. Or why our society doesn’t provide more publically funded care for the elderly, or why we don’t have more family-friendly work policies.

This kind of coverage provides plenty of grist for employers who want an excuse to discrminate against women. It also creates a climate in which ambitious young women may feel fearful and discouraged about pursuing a professional career. I’ll end with this quote from Echidne of the Snakes:

I’m thinking how this all would look to a young teenaged girl who is smart and ambitious and wants to find the cure for cancer or something similar. What would she learn from reading the New York Times? First she would find out that she would probably be regarded as a bad mother if she didn’t quit working while her children are young (September). This might make her decide to stay childless. Then she would find out that being successful would make her frightening to men and that she might never marry (October). If she was really ambitious she might then decide to stay single to be able to carry on with her professional plans. But this month, November, she is told that as a potential childless spinster she will probably be expected to take care of her parents one day. There is really no escape from the female gender roles, is there?
This entry posted in Families structures, divorce, etc, Gender and the Economy, Media criticism. Bookmark the permalink. 

28 Responses to The Times on Women Retiring To Take Care of Parents

  1. 1
    Susan says:

    Certainly there’s an escape. It starts by totally ignoring the NYTimes, which has other benefits as well.

  2. 2
    Mendy says:

    My family has a history of taking care of our elderly parents. And to my knowledge no one has had to leave their jobs to do this. The saying “it takes a village” is applicable to much more than just child rearing.

    Extended family is wonderful not only for child care and support, but also for the support of the senior members of our society.

    Personally, I’m not for more governmentally funded elder care facilities. I’ve seen the ones we have locally, and the care is horrid. That may not be the case everywhere, but it certainly is a concern in my area.

    Susan, I generally don’t read the times for quite a few different reasons.

  3. 3
    Robert says:

    The Times is using women as a smokescreen to get their readers riled up about something other than the paper’s appalling decline.

  4. 4
    Michael Moore says:

    It’s a trend all over to frame the conflict between work and family as a “mother” issue. It’s not just the Times. Last year, as part of a rant about the media, men and parenting, I pointed to an AP article about how employers are slowly boosting benefits for working mothers. My point there was that it didn’t serve the piece to say that the issue was about mothers, rather than about all working parents. If the story truly meant to point out the benefit, it would have been more effective without the gender bias. The bias gave the story a sense of, “You’ve come a long way, baby”!

    In my opinion, this bias is triply offensive: pointing out to women that they are expected to put aside anything for their family, pointing out (by omission) that men are expected not to sacrifice work to accommodate their family, and (more generally) allowing these issues to be dismissed as relating to women’s choices instead of being seen for the universal issues they are.

    Thanks for the post.

  5. 5
    mousehounde says:

    Mendy: Extended family is wonderful not only for child care and support, but also for the support of the senior members of our society.

    That sounds wonderful. But what are folks without extended families supposed to do? What about the single mom juggling work, kids, and aging parents? What about folks, married or single, who live paycheck to paycheck but who have to take time off from work to care for one or two sets of aging parents? These articles talk about women in financial brackets that I, and everyone I know, can only wish for. I don’t know anyone who can “choose” to quit work to take care of kids or parents. Most of the ones I know suffer when they have to take a day off from work. Being able to take years off or simply retire is just a dream.

    Personally, I’m not for more governmentally funded elder care facilities. I’ve seen the ones we have locally, and the care is horrid. That may not be the case everywhere, but it certainly is a concern in my area.

    What is the answer then?

    Long-term care in a nursing home ranges from $110 to $210 per day, depending upon the part of the country and whether the room is shared or private. That comes to $40,000 to $75,000 per year.

    Living in an Assisted Living Facility costs less: $50 to $90 per day, or $18,000 to $33,000 per year.

    Home health care averages $52 per visit, or $19,000 for daily visits for a year. Skilled nursing care (giving medications, administering oxygen, etc.) for 5 days per week averages $94 per visit, or $24,440 per year.

    Medicare doesn’t cover any of that. Medicaid pays sometimes. “The recipient must have very limited assets or spend down until they do have limited assets, as defined by the state of residence. The limit on assets may be as low as $1500 in some states. ”

    If you are lucky, mom and dad has a nice home you can sell. If you get 150K for it, that might buy you 3 to 6 years of care. If they don’t, you are pretty much screwed. If you make $10 an hour, after taxes and insurance you will get home with about 15K per year. That’s not really going to be much help after paying your own expenses.

    Wouldn’t it be lovely if every person who worked hard all their lives at whatever job they had didn’t have to worry about what would happen to them in their twilight years? They did what they were supposed to, they worked all their lives. Now, some folks will argue that it is the persons own fault if they don’t have enough money to survive on. They should have planned better, had a better job, been more educated. I have noticed that it is always folks who have plenty that say that. That every person should manage to be as successful as they are.

  6. 6
    Glaivester says:

    But as I said in my original post about this article, and I’ve said about the others in this genre, the idea that there is some sort of “trend” whereby significant numbers of professional class women (and it’s always only the professional class women we are talking about, in NewYorkTimesLand, anyway) are suddenly deciding to dump their careers because they find true happiness only in caring for families, is a crock.

    A “trend” is just a word that newspapers use to carry stories about things that everyone is interested in, but that aren’t really newsworthy in the sense that something new is happening or that there are new insights. To discuss the issue of women taking care of their parents as if it is news, the newspapers have to portray it as some sort of trend.

    Steve Sailer has commented on this:

    Actually, I have no idea if there’s a growing trend toward magazines like Newsweek declaring something is a growing trend when they actually have no idea whether it’s happening more or less often, but they do know it’s interesting. But, see, it wouldn’t be “news” if it wasn’t growing.
    The latest example of this trend (or nontrend, as the case may be) is the cover story in Newsweek:

    The Secret Lives of Wives Why they stray: With the work place and the Internet, overscheduled lives and inattentive husbands…it’s no wonder more American women are looking for comfort in the arms of another man
    Cheating wives is a perennially interesting topic, from the time of the Trojan War on down. It’s much more likely to sell magazines in July than, say, a cover story on “Kerry’s Struggle to Find the Perfect Veep,” or whatever the alternative quasi-hard news would have been. But, Newsweek can’t avoid claiming it’s also a trend despite data that’s thin at best.
    It reminds me of that article on underage prostitutes that was a big deal awhile ago. The newsweekly couldn’t just say: “Hey, we figured you’d like to read an article about underage prostitutes … so, here it is!” No, they had to put together a big song and dance about how it’s your civic duty to read this alarming article about a growing problem affecting ever larger numbers of America’s hot young babes. Of course, they didn’t have any real evidence one way or another about the numbers.

  7. 7
    Mendy says:

    I know what you are talking about as I am in that bracket of having to juggle a job, three kids, a mentally ill mother and brother in law, and an aging grandparent. I’m lucky in that my Grandfather worked really hard and was wise with his money so that for the most part he can afford his health care. My mother lives on disability which is just about 5oo dollars a month. She doesn’t recieve any other assisstance other than Medicaid.

    So, yes I understand. I wouldn’t mind government funded elder care if there is proper oversight, which is what I see lacking in my area. I’m lucky because I do have a support network of extended family and friends to help cover the gaps when kids get sick, or my mom has to go into the hospital, etc.

    I’m not sure what the anwer is, but I know that as the population is aging this is going to become a greater issue in the future.

    What would you suggest to address this problem?

  8. 8
    Mendy says:

    The answer for us was for my Mother to move in with my Grandfather and take care of him in his home. That has traditionally been how my family has handled elder care. The children care for the parents in the child’s home until such time as the parent either passes or needs full time medical care.

    It has worked for us for three generations, but I know it isn’t feasible for every family. So, yes I think the government should help children care for their aging parents. And I think that the government should help with childcare.

  9. 9
    Aggie says:

    I’m childless by choice but as an adult I’ve have the experience of taking financial, emotional, and physical care of a severely mentally ill sibling and I can relate to some of the stories here. No one asked my brother to be involved in the care of this sibling; his job was too important and he has kids of his own. My career, my needs, and the needs of my husband apparently didn’t mean anything. It was this way growing up, too. I helped my unstable mother deal with my three younger sisters, while my brother was free to focus on his academics and earing a scholarship, since he was “smarter” and did better in school. No one thought that perhaps he did better in school because he was not stressed out home, put into the role of caretaker, and forced to try to function mentally with little sleep or emotional care. And since I didn’t have actually have children, I was not able to take paid time off to provide this care for my sibling. Someone with a sick child could, but a sick sibling doesn’t count.

    I don’t understand articles like this. I also don’t understand work/life balance articles that are based in the assumption that men have zero responsibility to care for their own children, and when they do, it’s considered an optional extra (“babysitting” or “helping out around the house.”)

    My husband and I have just now climbed out debt and have been able to create a decent life together after a long struggle. We both work hard to maintain this simple but abundant life. And by that we have a little extra padding in the checking account every month and enough to spend on some modest extras without resorting to credit card debt. I consider that “abundant.” We don’t even own a house. If something happened to my parents, frankly, I would be a little too selfish to automatically give all this up, on the basis of my gender, to care for them considering what they’ve put me through. But I doubt anyone would consider asking my brother to step in and help.

  10. 10
    mythago says:

    Robert, you are probably partly right, but the NYT is also aiming at a particularly upscale crowd–one in which having a job really is optional, and where the MBA is the new MRS.

  11. 11
    Mendy says:


    I empathize with your situation. In my case, I was the sibling that did the best in school and earned the scholarship. My sister, cannot be counted on to see past her own needs to care for her children much less help with our Mother’s problems or Granddad.

    I do indeed believe that men should help care for their children and parents. I can’t get paid time off to take care of my sick children nor take care of my Mother, and my husband doesn’t either. I think part of the problem is employers not seeing or caring about the fact that many people may not have children but do have aging parents to care for. I think the definition of “dependent” ought to be seriously revamped.

  12. 12
    Barbara says:

    Aggie and others, my SIL is in the situation you describe — the one who takes off work and goes running down to take care of her elderly parents when family are required. They have resources, so the burden is relatively light, but two things became apparent to me when she complained to me that we (who live much further away) should do more: She wouldn’t complain directly to the men in her family — she would complain to me, a female in-law with much younger children than her own, before she would collar my husband or any of her other brothers. The caregivers themselves often exhibit the biases that make their situation difficult. If you never ask, then a person might never think to offer, and sure, it may be out of self-interest, or relief but it could also be out of simple obtuseness.

    The second observation is that to some degree children always remain children. She wouldn’t force her parents to do things for her own convenience even when their actions were counterproductive and obstinate to the point of self-destruction. She never wanted to be other than the dutiful daughter and let herself be run ragged. When I pointed out that she should take her father to a specialist who lives near her whether he wanted to go or not, and that if we came down to help we would make it clear that we would do that or not come at all, she admitted that she didn’t do things like that out of “respect” for her parents.

    I agree with everything said in the post about the Times articles in question — the willingness to assume that women are the nurses, social workers and caregivers in the family perpetuates the notion that men should be let off the hook when it comes in coping with family issues. In turn, this only exacerbates a situation in which women themselves often make the same assumptions and fail to take what steps they can to lighten their own load.

  13. 13
    Lee says:

    Family dynamics are such that most families have one person who is the default “fixer,” and that person is usually a woman. If the fixer is a man, and he happens to be married, his wife frequently becomes the fixer in all but name. For instance, my sister is married to the youngest of five children, but despite the fact that two of her sisters-in-law are nurses and local to the parents, my sister is the one who ended up talking to the social workers and doctors, dealing with Medicaid, and finally moving her mother-in-law in with her.

    So why is the fixer usually a woman? Are women less likely to shirk unpleasant responsibilities? Would the men step up to bat if the women didn’t rush in?

  14. 14
    silverside says:

    One angle I have not seen any exploration of in this article is the geo-political one. The reason these women cannot combine their career and taking care of their parents is that they left “home” (typically the vast swath of rural, midwestern American where agribusiness has decimated small town economies) for the coasts, so that they could have a career (e.g. not get stuck working at Wal-mart back in Rolla, Missouri). We do have a big problem now, in that there is an increasingly aging population of persons in states like Iowa and no grown children to keep an eye on the situation. You can only find out so much by calling every other day on the phone. So somebody has to be there to at least monitor that your parents are getting the medical or other services they need. Other than moving your parents to NYC or LA or where ever you are now located, what is one to do? Yes, this does tend to fall disproportionately on single women with no children. But my partner (an only child, and son) got suckered into this too. Left a managment position to return to the small town where he grew up.

    While these women are putting a brave face on it now, I’d like to see the Times check back with them in ten years. After 10 years of little to no time with friends, few cultural and recreational opportunities (at least not of the type that they initially left small-town life for), no professional stimulation and limited money, and the frustrations of taking care of someone with Alzheimer’s, I think we will find some clinically depressed and exhausted people. My partner certainly got to that state, before his mother was finally put in a nursing home.

  15. 15
    Richard Bellamy says:

    I think this article is different from the “I’m Making Up a Trend!” articles that are common.

    This article, in fact, falls into a completely different category, which I call “The Baby Boomers are Doing It!” article, which assumes that anything the baby boomers do have never been done before. It used to be “Will We Have Enough Money to Retire?” or “Will We Have Enough Money To Send Our Kids to College?” Now, its “What Will We Do About Mom?” “We” are the baby boomers.

    In twenty years, the headlines in the New York Times will be, “Doesn’t it seem like we’re all dying a lot more than we used to?”

    In terms of “trends”, of course it is a trend. More 50 year old women work out of the house than in the past, and they usually have a parent or two hanging around somewhere. The “trend” is the fact that there are lots of baby boomers, so if they are doing it, it’s a trend.

  16. 16
    pia says:

    Wrote a long post that I took down. My mom had resources and her mind. However she became blind. She lived in New York; I wanted to leave NY, couldn’t. Still took me three hours on public transport to see her. Still was called selfish for not seeing her enough, by her friends–would waste days for an hour doctors appointment. And loved her very much, but..

    In my early 40s, I made long term decisions based on her needs, not mine–she was older as I was adopted. My sister married and while helped our mother more physically it was a fifteen minute ride

    The point is that when I sought help to deal with this it was always an either or solution–leave or stay

    I moved back to Manhattan and am living somebody else’s dream life–but it only took an hour to see her.

    Even in the best of situations it’s difficult. Of course you’re going to remain a child to your parent and you–or become one again. Your parents needs and your needs have changed, and no you haven’t switched roles and would never dishonor your parent by thinking of him/her as a child–and you the parent. Then it would become easy and you could just force your parent to do what you want

    But there are many different types of capabalities and many different types of situations. I went back to school and got a Masters in Social Work–clinical geriatrics. it was the single most costly and worst decision I have ever made. But it seemed right then as I was immersed in the world

    Keeping my mother independent came at very great psychic costs to me. I am glad that the Times had that article, thought that they rose colored it a bit. Don’t think it’s going to dissuade young women from becoming whatever they want to be.

    Do think that every family should realistically discuss this when their kids are just out of college; everybody thinks it can’t happen to me.

    And I neglected my own health because of the intense amount of time I spent at doctors with my mother. Hell, it felt as if I were having a doctor’s appointment also

    As I said my mother wasn’t demented; she refused to move to an assisted living facility, and while she wasn’t nursing home material, I felt like I was by the end

    This is the unmentionable topic. This is the topic that I went to school to learn how to change but somehow even the people who seemed innovative thought that it’s a daughter’s duty to take care of her parents, and would harshly judge daughters who didn’t.

    Calling every other day by phone? Try five times a day: had to call my mother promptly at 9AM otherwise she would panic, and other times. That’s why cells were invented.

    In the last year it became much easier as she consented to have an aide five days a week four hours a day. Truly helped.

    I can not state how much shame I felt in the 1990’s for being both independent and a good daughter. The same social workers (I worked with) who would advocate for a person to go home to a garbage strewn apartment and who couldn’t take care of themselves really and everybody knew that, would say things to me like “you let her warm up her own food?”

    My mother was the most wonderful woman but in old age she really didn’t see how destructive her need to be totally independent was to me.

  17. 17
    silverside says:

    Pia, I totally empathize with what you are saying. Although the women in the Times article feel “positive” about their “choices” now, I’d really like to see the Times check back with them in 10 years, after they abandoned a life with an interesting job and friends and leisure for not much of any of these. I think people vastly underestimate the toll these things take after a time. Sure, it doesn’t kill you not going to the movies for a week. That’s different than 10 years. Or not being able to go out with friends for 10 years. Never having any down time for yourself for 10 years. That’s when you see the start of caretaker burnout. From what I have seen, some 80-90% of caretakers end up with a major depressive episode.

    My partner (a son and only child) moved from an urban environment and a job in managment to the very small town where he grew up so he could take care of his increasingly infirm parents. After his father died, he was living with his mother who had Alzheimer’s. He was always adamant that he would never put her in a nursing home. Well, the guy finally hit a point of such depression and exhaustion that he ended up hospitalized himself. That is when his mother was finally put in a home. But he had allowed himself to be guilt-tripped into thinking he could do it all.

    The fact is, is that it isn’t just watching out for your parents anymore. In an increasingly mobile society, children may be asked to basically give up their lives and relocate to do parental care. I’m sure it feels very ennobling (at first). But I have a feeling that some of the women in the Times article are headed for major caretaker burnout. It’s just a matter of time.

  18. 18
    Susan says:

    Someone has to get tough with these old people, and I say that as a (relatively) old person myself. (60)

    Selfishness has no age limit, and it is no more excusable in an 80 year old than in a 20 year old. Less, in fact, because people are supposed to grow up over the years, and get better, not worse.

    The necessities of modern life, for which none of us are personally responsible, make “traditional” care of the old and infirm impossible beyond certain limits. In addition, modern medical care ensures that many of these people live for many years after the point when they would have died 200 years ago.

    No one should be forced, either by the society or by their own guilt feelings, to try to care for anyone under circumstances which put the caretaker into the hospital. People who for whatever reason cannot live independently (I mean really independently, not someone who needs 5 phone calls a day, let alone an on-site adult child) should be in institutions which can provide reliable, 24 hour a day care. If these institutions are unpleasant, we should work to make them more pleasant.

    Generous tax support for families who cannot afford this (which is nearly everyone) would be a good investment for all of us.

  19. 19
    Elena says:

    Let’s not forget our children- we can start thinking about ways to not burden them while we are young and have our health. I have one child, and I have vowed not to become a burden to her if I can possibly avoid it. I do everything reasonable to stay healthy- no smoking, plenty of exercise, etc. I am also planning for retirement and when the time comes, I hope to be able to die as naturally as possible and not drag things out. This may be unrealistic, but as my friend’s parents start to get sick, I’ve seen some cases of aggressive treatment of terminal conditions that bordered on the obscene.

  20. 20
    roberta robinson says:

    I had to take care of my sister who had multiple sclerosis, anyway since i was not married or working it was okay, so I moved in with her, boy I will never do that again, she couldn’t walk at all, I didn’t mind making meals, (there was a nurse who came serveral times a week to do errands as I couldn’t drive and do laundry we didn’t have washer or dryer,and to bath her too) or being there to keep her company and trying to help in little ways.

    both my brothers were working, neither were married at the time, my other sister lived in another state, my mom and I took care of her.

    anyway the part that sent me nutty was her selfishness, her bitter hatred of me, accusing me of trying to earn points to go to heaven (don’t have any idea where she got that one) and treating me like a child, here I am doing alot for her, giving up alot of my freedoms and ability to go look for a job and she treats me like I am a child, and she is finding fault with me. I definitly didn’t understand that one.

    i was about 19 or 20 at the time. anyway I was so emotionally out of it by the end of a year, I would go for long walks rather than be in that smoke filled room. she hated me because I wouldn’t light and hold cigerettes for her since her hands shook too much, I said not only are you making yourself sick you are making me sick, your smoking is killing me too. she didn’t care.

    my mom agreed that she was selfish, even before getting sick she was that way according to my mom. this was her normal pattern and the illness only made it worse. I stayed a year then she was put into a nursing home and died 2 years later.

    my mom got lung cancer and lived in north carolina near my other sister, and my sister bared the full load of taking her to the doctors making food for her when she was too sick to do it herself, helping her out during chemo and radiation, for a year and a half,

    I wished I was down there to help her, but was not able financially and i am married and couldn’t just up and leave him for a year. but my sister was a real trooper, my brother who is long distance trucker, would get loads that way so he could stop for a weekend to see my mom and help out, which was great my mom said she really appreciated having her kids around even if only occassionally.

    once the cancer was remitted things were fine for about year and it came back with a vengenace and 7 weeks later she was dead.

    I was able to spend a month there, helping my sister care for her, my brother would come down during weekends and when on a run, to help out where he could.

    I left just before she died since I had a husband to get back to. she died with my sister beside her.

    believe me it was hard having to stay there, not able to leave to even go for a walk, she need round the clock care, and thank goodness my mom wasn’t demanding, I had to get her water all the time cook the meals, my sister would stay with her so I could go to my meetings. then the emtions of having to watch her slowly dying to weak to even stand up after a couple of weeks.

    and had to help her use the pot. it is a good thing I have strength as my sister has none and couldn’t lift my mom, who weighed about 150. I could pick her up to put her on the pot, which surprised me.

    but my biggest challenge was watching my dying it created anxieties in me I didn’t think would come forth, such as my mom who I love is dying does that mean my hubby will die while I am a way? (I know that was stupid but I was an emotionally basket case then) and I got so homesick and worried something would happen to my hubby that I couldn’t think straight.

    so I can see how a person who holds a job, takes care of household duties especially without help, and who cares for a sick or aging sibling or parent must totally lose their minds. and I can feel the anger when I think how men are not chastised or anything when they don’t make sacrifices to help family but woman are.

    I just read this book about woman over fourty, anyway they had a cartoon in there where a very old petite woman was pushing her big fat husband in a wheel chair and the doctor is standing and says “your husband is lucky to have you to take care of him,”. I mean that shows the mentality of society standards, because in one of the paragraphs it says it is not unusual for a doctor to tell a husband of a sick wife to put her in a nursing home to avoid the burden but a woman they do not recommend this. not fair.

    so goes the guilt complex. they play on woman’s guilt, men grow up doing whatever they please and are not disciplined or taught a conscious while woman are raised with constant bombardment on not being selfish.

    I am sure there are exceptions, but this is the general rule. a man neglects his family emotionally, financially or whatever and no one corrects their attitude or chastises them in anyway a woman does the same thing and look out she is branded a selfish so and so.

    RR reponsiblity of family goes to all it’s members regardless of gender, and boys should be taught this as well as girls or nothing will change.

  21. 21
    Mendy says:

    I don’t think my Grandfather is being selfish. He can go to the restroom by himself, and shower himself, but due to the Parkinson’s he can’t cook or use a knife. This my mother does, and she also takes him to his doctor’s appointments. My uncle takes two weekends a month so that Mom has some time off. I’ve even gone and stayed with Papaw so she could get some rest.

    Believe it or not, it was my mother that was adamant about not putting Grandpa into the nursing home until he asked for it. She told me that it was as if her brother’s were wanting to shove him into some home somewhere and forget him. (In my family that would be a real issue). So, for her this isn’t a burden but a job she chose, and as I said she is on disability and cannot work outside the home.

    When the time comes my husband and I have already discussed Mother’s care. As long as she has her mind and I don’t need to fear her wandering off or burning down the house, I will take care of her. It isn’t my duty and it isn’t guilt that makes me want to do it. Instead it is a deep respect and love of this woman that struggled so hard to give me the life I have now.

    I worked for several years in EMS and part of my job was doing transport for dialysis patients. There were many nursing home residents that hadn’t seen their children or grand children in years. They would sit at windows and doors and just stare out into nothingness. And these were not Alzhiemer’s patients, but those that just couldn’t live alone anymore.

    Is that what we’ve come to? If that is the case I hope I don’t live into my 90’s.

  22. 22
    Susan says:

    When the time comes my husband and I have already discussed Mother’s care. As long as she has her mind and I don’t need to fear her wandering off or burning down the house, I will take care of her. It isn’t my duty and it isn’t guilt that makes me want to do it. Instead it is a deep respect and love of this woman that struggled so hard to give me the life I have now.

    Loving, generous people like your mother are welcome everywhere. Even when it takes a little extra care. Look how generous she’s been with your grandfather. This shows her quality.

    Selfish, self-involved people are a drag, regardless of their age.

    I’m back to my idea that some of this responsibility for being abandoned should be parked on the elderly. You are now and have always been a self-centered shit? Well, don’t be surprised when no one wants your company. You love the people around you? You are open and generous? Well, you’ll be welcome wherever you go. People like that are always in short supply. Your blood family doesn’t want you? Call me up without delay.

    Mendy, you’ll never be alone. People, strangers even, will line up to take care of you when the time comes.

  23. 23
    clew says:

    I’m pretty sure that ‘traditionally’ the non-working aged parent would move to be near the working child, if needed. Obviously, if the working child was still on the family farm, not a problem, but there are some adaptations to be made to our post-peasant society.

    I talked one of my grandfathers into moving out to where his daughter & two grandkids all had JOBS and it worked out well enough. Turned out our county had hospice programs, too, which we are grateful for.

  24. 24
    Glaivester says:

    This article, in fact, falls into a completely different category, which I call “The Baby Boomers are Doing It!” article, which assumes that anything the baby boomers do have never been done before. It used to be “Will We Have Enough Money to Retire?” or “Will We Have Enough Money To Send Our Kids to College?” Now, its “What Will We Do About Mom?” “We” are the baby boomers.

    In all due fairness, I don’t think that retirement was considered a given until the 1930s, and I believe that college was considered a luxury, not part of the average American life, until after World War II. So while the Baby Boomers didn’t invent these things, they are not exactly issues that have plagued mankind since time immemorial.

  25. 25
    silverside says:

    One problem is that the parent who raised you may not be the person you are caring for in old age.

    My partner described his mother while he was growing up as loving (perhaps a little too indulgent), and yet very much an independent woman (she ran her own business from the 1950s on). Yet after years of Alzheimers, she was obsessive-compulsive and belligerent. Yet sometimes, she would have a moment of cogency when she would tell me, with this sad look in her eye, that she never would have wanted to be this way.

    The experience was relatively neutral for me, just exhausting, but for my partner it was totally emotionally devastating. That’s why it is sometimes better to move care on to other people, because they are less emotionally involved.

  26. 26
    Mendy says:


    That is true, Alzheimers causes personality changes as well as memory loss. It is a devastating illness. It is one thing to shift care to some one else and still be involved. It is something else to put a parent that raised and cared for you (presumably well) in a nursing home and then just forget they exist. Not that I’m saying that anyone posting here has done this, it is just that I’ve seen it happen.

    And the nature of my mother’s illness is one of personality changes – she is bi-polar. So, that isn’t a big deal for me. My Grandfather is cranky because he is coming to terms with the loss of his independence. And I can’t say that I wouldn’t feel the same if I was in his shoes. It is a dramatic thing to wake up one day and not be able to drive yourself, cook, hunt, fish, or do the things you took pleasure in for years.

  27. 27
    Katy Butler says:

    Aggie, Mendy & Roberta Robertson: I realize this is an old string, but if you check back on this blog, I’m a journalist (write for the Times on occasion) and would like to get in touch with you.
    I’m writing an article for a smart, mass circulation magazine for midlife women called “More” about tweaking the “dutiful daughter” caretaking role so it’s more doable — especially in the context of brothers not doing so much.
    If you want to get in touch with me, please go to my website, “” and you will see my email address there.
    Thanks a lot — a fascinating set of posts.
    Katy Butler

  28. 28
    Rose says:

    I’m almost 68 & recently took family leave to care for my mother who is almost 90. Family leave is unpaid & a nightmare in getting it set up is almost not worth it. My insurance who takes care of family leave couldn’t care less about me & my commitment. I told them they were not human, a waste of my breath. However I will take care of my mother & will retire to do it.
    People should realize that when you raise children as they grow older they need you less &less however as your parents grow older they need you more & more.