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O Brother, Where Art Thou?

 

My husband and I are often asked why we had our children seven years apart. We’ve always joked that we finally had a second child when we realized we couldn’t count on our daughter to care for us when we were old. Our second child, a boy to carry on the Koehler name, is just as sweet as can be. Yet, according to the American Sociological Association (ASA), the joke is really on us.

The ASA released a study this month about the role sibling gender plays in caregiving. They determined that parents are better off having daughters if they want to be cared for in their old age. The reason: women appear to provide as much elderly parent care as they can, while men contribute as little as possible.

The study claims that daughters provide an average of 12.3 hours of care each month compared to their brothers’ 5.6 hours. So that means the girls are doing twice as much caregiving for Mom and Dad.

I’m sure thousands of families could’ve anecdotally told you this same scenario, but now we have science to back it up.

And the question to all of this is: Why is this happening, and how do we fix it?

Let’s look at the Why. A friend recently told me it was because women are natural caregivers. What does that mean? Because we have a womb we instinctively know how to care for someone? I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had to bumble and fake my way through caregiving. I guess my womb failed me. But the truth is, people do believe women are natural caregivers, and this belief and the expectations that come along with it have serious ramifications.

Here’s another scenario. Men tend to be further along in their careers by the time caregiving duty calls. Their sisters have taken time off to raise children, or their careers haven’t advanced as quickly due to various other reasons (and that’s an entirely different issue). So the women are seen to be sacrificing less by being the caregiver and are nudged to step up into the caregiving role.

And what is the danger to women taking on this role instead of their brothers? Withdrawing from the workforce means they stop contributing to Social Security and aren’t able to save for their own futures through pensions or private savings. All of this is a recipe for an impoverished old age.

So what do we do now? How do we fix this and make caregiving more equitable among the siblings whether they have a womb or not?

There are so many factors that need to change in order for this to work. As a society, we need to begin recognizing men as great caregivers. A little girl holds a doll and we exclaim, “What a good little mama you are!” When a boy does the same thing, we are quick to swap the doll with a “boy” toy, or we ignore the caring act all together.

As moms, we need to allow our husbands to play a larger role in the care of our children so they can experience caregiving early on. I’m hopeful that the recent Stay at Home Dad movement will have a positive impact on the equality in caregiving for the aging population.

Beyond the social changes, employers need to provide resources and benefits for working caregivers that will allow them to not only stay in the workforce longer, but provide care for their aging parents or spouse. The government and employers stepped up with tax credits, maternity leave, and other benefits when more and more mothers joined the workforce, and now it’s time to look at the other end of the spectrum. Before long, the number of Americans 65-years old or older will far outnumber those under the age of 5.

I’d love to hear how the caregiving works in your family. Do the daughters do more than the sons? Are there no daughters, so the boys take on the caregiving? As for our house? I’m pretty sure our daughter will move far away to avoid any caregiving duties, so I’m hoping that beautiful little boy of ours stays a mama’s boy!

 

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Thoughts and stories from others
  1. September 4, 2014 at 11:27 pm | Posted by Kim

    During my masters program in social gerontology we discussed how women are sandwiched or caught in the middle to render care to aging parents and their own children. Typically it is the first born daughter or a daughter-n- law that is forced to take on the task. Regardless it places an overwhelming amount of stress on the caregiver and in some cases they die prior to the person receiving care. I encourage all to read "Women In The Middle" by Elaine M. Brody it offers a detailed account of the stress many women have faced as caregivers.

    Reply

  2. August 31, 2014 at 7:30 pm | Posted by Gerrick Reed Busl

    Carla, like everyone else has a right to be wrong in her feelings, because we each own our own feelings; but no one has a right to be wrong about FACTS! These are the FACTS: It has actually been about 20 months since I last saw my parents, not “a few years.” My parents and I were planning on them coming here for an extended stay with my wife and I a year ago last Spring, but in the midst of trying to work all of the details out, my dear Sister decided that she and I were “coming from two very different positions,” especially as relates to our parents, and she basically fixed things so that they could not come here. She also decided that I was “DEAD,” and cut off any and all communications with me, refusing to take my calls or answer e-mails. The difference between our positions as relates to Mom and Dad are that she is concerned mostly with keeping them happy, and I am more concerned with their health, welfare and safety, and when those are squared away, their happiness is a secondary concern, she does not seem not as concerned about keeping them safe and healthy. I am not inferring that she doesn’t pay any attention to their welfare, but she is much more concerned with keeping people who don’t make good choices anymore happy, meaning that she gives into their childish desires too often, just to keep the peace. She would let them do what they want, rather than what is best for them, to avoid any conflict. For example, she let them go up to their Summer home in MA and stay by themselves, when even their friends and caregivers up there had said that it was no longer possible for them to do that!. She is deathly afraid of making my Mother unhappy for reasons that I can’t even begin to fathom. It is true, I don’t work. I haven’t worked for nearly 15 years, because I am totally and permanently disabled as the result of 2 failed back surgeries; a heart attack; several autoimmune disorders, including Demylenating Sjogren’s Syndrome which mimics Multiple Sclerosis; I also have some kind of as yet not completely diagnosed Neuromyelitis; I had a kidney removed due to kidney cancer; I have severe diabetes; and hypertension; and I am due, in the next few weeks, to have another major back surgery to fuse my entire lumbar spine, which will then be bolted to my hip bones for stability, surgery that was originally scheduled for April of 2011, but I developed a serious blood disordered that prevented it until now. I can walk now, but with difficulty, and with a walker or a cane. Our hope is that the next surgery will relive many of my health issues! In spite of all that, I was, and continue to be, willing to have my parents live with my wife and I, of course that puts an undue burden on my wife, but she is willing, given the circumstances. My sister, to the best of my knowledge has made more than 5 trips to Florida to see her children and grandchildren in the last year and a half, and at least one 10 day long vacation with her boyfriend, at least 3 of those times leaving my parents ALONE! They are not capable of being alone! My home has been in foreclosure for the last five years and is still tied up in court, even though we won our court case against the lender due to their fraudulent attempt to steal our home, also the statute of limitations on the time to finish a foreclosure has expired. We cannot sell our home, we can’t rent it, we can’t move if we wanted to! I have, in fact, shown a lot of interest in my parents, but I know nothing about what is going on with them, except what I hear from my somewhat demented mother in my weekly phone calls to her, or glean from the Facebook contact that Carla maintains with my wife, she blocked me on Facebook over a year ago! My sister has refused to speak to me for over a year and a half. If she feels “100 percent of the burden” of my parents’ care, it is because of the choices she has made, choices have consequences and hers are self-inflicted. She is renting a home from her boyfriend of 21 years, she doesn’t own a home in all probability because she has spent too much of her income on her adult children over the last 15 years. I am not unsympathetic towards my sister, frankly I believe she has mental issues that are not being addressed, in fact, a mental health professional and a lawyer with whom I shared some of her e-mails (the ones before she declared me to be dead) agree that she really needs help! I love my sister deeply, but I just don’t know how to break through the barriers that she has erected. Until 2 years ago we were, I thought, the best of friends, but she tells me now that she has hated me for a long time, and apparently over the most ridiculous things, like the fact that I didn’t read her mind about the planning and execution of my parent’s 60th anniversary party 8 years ago! I have a differing view of politics than she does. I am not a fan of the Mainstream Media, and she works for a small Network News affiliate in a small southern city and takes it personally that I don’t like the NY Times, NBC, MSNBC, ABC, etc. I am “trashing her career” by being critical of the national news services and media! Carla cut off almost all communication about my parents and their care and welfare about 2 years ago and then cut off all communications completely about a year ago. She gets angry though that I am not a mind reader and can’t figure how best to be involved in caring for our parents. Several months ago, after months of suggesting to me that I should consider her to be dead (apparently to avoid any communications), she declared me to be dead. Carla told me that as far as she was concerned I was "dead to her." A day or so later she told my wife how relieved she was to not have to deal with me any longer. And she has treated me since then like I was non-existent. To me, it is just another ploy to avoid letting me be involved in any way with my parent’s care and welfare. I don’t know why she has kept me from any involvement with them, but I do know that she complains all the time, apparently to anyone who will listen, that I am not, creating for me a no win situation. And then she makes comments like the one above to complete strangers at “Oh Brother….” She would rather slander me than listen to ANY suggestions I might have for taking care of our parents. If I make suggestions or ask questions I am being “mean and controlling.” I don’t know if this situation is fixable, or how, remember, I am comfortably dead in her view. I want desperately to go back to the days when I thought we were the best of friends and had a common goal of making our parents’ last years as pleasant as possible. But all of that is hard to do when you are “dead!” I am much more saddened than angered by her little diatribe on this page, it hurts to have her be so blithely out of touch with reality about me, driven by her anger towards me that apparently has been simmering for years but was never revealed to me. I cannot force her to do what is right, so all I can do is pray that she will see where I am coming from and we can start over again and rebuild our relationship and at the same time come to an understanding of how best to help Mom and Dad live out the rest of their lives happy AND healthy and safe! Gerrick Reed Busl (Carla Field’s terrible, awful, 'deceased' brother)

    Reply

    • August 31, 2014 at 7:36 pm | Posted by Gerrick Reed Busl

      Unfortunately my Sister's comments to which I was responding seemed to have disappeared. Here they are: August 26, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Posted by Carla Field "My parents, mom with Alzheimer's, dad with severe dementia, have had to live with me the last few years. My brother has not even seen them in a few years. He doesn't work. I work 45-50 hours a week and then take care of them. I barely get to be a mother to my own three children or a grandmother to my five grandchildren. I am a single head of the household. My brother is married with one adult married child. I pay rent. He owns his own home with a pool. With my pay and my parents meager pension and SS, I pay all their bills for the home I need to sell for them as soon as I am able. And my brother does not pay a cent, do a thing, or show any interest the parents who are in the process of a long goodbye. So yes, I feel the burden of care falls 100 percent on me."

      Reply

  3. August 28, 2014 at 11:19 pm | Posted by sammye

    My mother had alzeimers and there are five of us kids, three girls and two boys, my husband and I moved in to help my dad with my mom. I am a stay at home wife with two daughters, my sisters and I were the main ones besides our dad that took care of her. My brothers both work so it was harder for them to help us. She passed away last year and I wouldn't trade a minute of caring for her for anything. I do wish they could have helped us more but I understand why they couldnt.

    Reply

  4. August 28, 2014 at 12:10 am | Posted by BeckyR

    My 2 brothers live 6 hours away. One of my brothers is retired from the US government and has a pension along with his wife. My other brother is a millionaire and lives in 2 states and Spain. These gentlemen have never done anything for our mom. They have complained to DSS and filed legal action but when it comes to actually doing anything, forget it. In 3 years I have never been asked if I need a respite. My mom's house is an historical property and they want it. Therefore, they are doing everything they can to show me as the bad person. My mom's will leaves me the house and I am also her POA for financial and medical. Her sons have written very nasty letters to her and do not call or visit her. I am sad for her but angry with them for the pain they cause. My mom is 94, has AD, and is in an assisted living facility because she broke her hip last year and refused to take physical therapy until July 2014. She wants to come home and I will not let her until she walks. Doctor has told me there is no reason she can not walk.

    Reply

  5. August 27, 2014 at 3:29 pm | Posted by Doug

    Geez this is the second time in as many weeks I have read about this "crisis" that the daughters have to take on the responsibility. In fact I was interviewed by healthline.com concerning this issue. I have no sisters and have dedicated the last eleven years to taking care of my stepfather (whom has passed) and mother (late stages). If this weren't enough my partners mother was diagnosed this spring with stage four cancer. I only have a brother and sister in law who have adult children that have alienated themselves from any care what so ever. I had to take a leave from employment several yrs ago and had to for financial reasons go back to work to pay for the help I needed for mother. I would not have it any other way. I'm sorry that some people can't deal with it. Guys you need to step up and face reality. Has this effected me financially, you bet it has. However, a person is only blessed with one set of parents and they made sacrifices in raising us. I feel not only that it is a requirement, but an honor. Parent lover Doug

    Reply

  6. August 27, 2014 at 2:20 pm | Posted by Cindy Lynn

    I just lost my mom to Alzheimer's Disease 8/14/14. I'm single and childless, left my management position to care for my mother in her home. Mom's son (yes he's my biological sibling) contributed two hours on Sunday and three hours on Wednesday, and the rare (two, maybe three a year) weekend evening so I could get out with friends. Now that mom has passed, in my mind, I am an only child. Oh, and looking for work. *SIGH*

    Reply

  7. August 27, 2014 at 11:21 am | Posted by Jacqui

    My heart goes out to you… We are dealing with my mother in law and my husband helps out so much. He is an only child and we sometimes feel the burden and feel guilty about that! You on the other hand are doing so much- I really feel for you. If your [rotton] brother doesn't help , ask if his wife or grown child will help out? Your adult children could lend a hand as well. You must ASK for help because you will burn out… take care of you as well please! [[[hugs]]]

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    • September 4, 2014 at 9:04 am | Posted by Gerrick Reed Busl

      Jacqui, Personal stories, like coins, always have two sides, your comments were quite appropriate considering you knew only one side of the story, but might change if you knew the other side! My Sister Carla, has assumed all of the burden, in part, I believe because she has a Martyr's Complex. She wants all of the burden so that she can do just what she is doing here, complain about it to anyone and everyone to elicit their sympathy. Beyond that though, Carla has cut off ALL communications with me for over a year, making it impossible for me to know what is going on with her and/or my parents. She cut me off when I started asking 'difficult' questions, like how much money is coming in each month and how is it being spent; why have neither one of their two homes, which they will never live in again, been sold to help with the finances and the VA requirements; can I get a copy of their latest medical reports, and the be put on their HIPAA forms so I can speak to their doctors; and other equally critically important things. Carla got very angry and decided that I was "dead" as far as she was concerned, and later wrote to my wife about how relieved she was that she never had to speak to me or deal with me again. I have a LOT of serious health issues that have made it difficult to be as available for my parents as I would like, nonetheless, I have always been willing to do whatever I could, including having them live me and my wife for as long as they wanted. My wife has a big enough job with her job and caring for me, but she also was willing to take on the added burden of my parents being here to relieve Carla. Yes, Carla's adult children, whom have continued to drain her finances even they they are all married adults with very good jobs, SHOULD be helping her! She visits her children and grandchildren regularly and takes vacations with her boyfriend, so she is not without respite! Now as Paul Harvey used to say, you know the rest of story, or least some of it, and I hope you can see things a little differently! God bless, Gerrick

      Reply

  8. August 27, 2014 at 11:06 am | Posted by Janice Marlow

    My 93 yr old Mom who has moderate to severe Alzheimers lives with me and my husband. My 3 brothers and their wives all live a good distance away. They try to give us respite time a couple times a year but it's a drop in the bucket compared to what my husband and I do. And none of my brothers will/can care for Mom without their wives because they can't/won't do personal care. I do get resentful but just don't see other options.

    Reply

  9. August 26, 2014 at 3:32 pm | Posted by Carla Field

    My parents, mom with Alzheimer's, dad with severe dementia, have had to live with me the last few years. My brother has not even seen them in a few years. He doesn't work. I work 45-50 hours a week and then take care of them. I barely get to be a mother to my own three children or a grandmother to my five grandchildren. I am a single head of the household. My brother is married with one adult married child. I pay rent. He owns his own home with a pool. With my pay and my parents meager pension and SS, I pay all their bills for the home I need to sell for them as soon as I am able. And my brother does not pay a cent, do a thing, or show any interest the parents who are in the process of a long goodbye. So yes, I feel the burden of care falls 100 percent on me.

    Reply

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