In most societies, including our own, it is the woman who is the primary caregiver, the nurturer, the supporter. In a woman’s capacity as mother these tasks are performed on her children, rearing them and preparing them to be well-adjusted, productive members of society. It should come as little surprise, then, to discover the woman generally assumes these roles for parents and other family members in the latter stages of life as well. In this case, however, it is in the woman’s capacity as daughter that these tasks are performed. Thus, in addition to focusing on the physical and financial needs of the parent, she must also be sensitive to their dignity, and the emotional issues accompanying a person’s aging process and their progressively increasing dependence on their children.
As the circle of life draws to a close, an elderly individual has a number of important decisions to make, chief among them being where to live. For individuals unable to live independently because of physical or mental deterioration, there are a few options. A nursing home is an option, as is an assisted-living facility, but perhaps the individual is not yet in need of such a level of care, or is unwilling to incur the potentially tremendous cost of such care. The final option, then, is to move in with a family member. More than nine times out of ten, a family member acts as a caregiver in some capacity for an elderly parent prior to that parent receiving a professional level of care.
In nearly twenty years of practice, I have seen literally hundreds of families in this precise situation and my experience clearly shows that for families who choose to move an elderly parent in with them, it is far more often a daughter than a son who takes the parent. There may be many reasons for this phenomenon, but I believe the caregiver role of women in our society is the primary one.
I come from just such a family, and grew up with all manner of elderly relatives. It was simply expected that we would be there for these family members, and my mother cared for them during all stages of their physical and mental capacities. My father was present as well, but there was an understanding, an implicit expectation, that my mother would bear the majority of the burden of caring for these individuals. That was simply the way it was, and no one questioned it. I believe that my situation is identical to those of thousands of other families in Minnesota.
(To Be Continued…)
Kris Maser is a shareholder in the law firm of Maser Amundson, P.A. where she manages the firm’s Elder Law Department. Her practice is dedicated to the needs and interests of the elderly and families of the elderly.