It used to be the province of the maiden aunt, the unmarried family member with no children of her own. She would be called upon in times of need to help with her siblings’ offspring, or the parents who had become infirm.
Women have always cared for others. Sometimes, it was the only way they could support themselves in economies that didn’t allow for other options (think Jane Eyre).
For those who can not afford the services of others, or are combining caregiving tasks with their own full-time work, the physical and emotional demands are exhausting.
I have had the experience from both sides of the life cycle. Parents, who had long and productive lives, required help when they were felled by extended illness. A child, whose needs went beyond the requisite care, necessitated my time, energy, and focus to ensure that he was guaranteed a sure-footed path in life.
Having done both, I know it can be draining, frustrating, and at times – deeply sad. But I wouldn’t go back and change my choice to be pro-active. I saw tangible results from my actions, and I sleep with a clear conscience.
There is an ad on television about the middle-age woman who got behind in her credit card payments because she gave up her job to “take care of Mom.” The pitch line is she has a friend in her credit card company, so she doesn’t have to worry. (Yeah, right. Check the interest rate!).
Instead of credit card loans, how about a tax credit for those who need to leave the work force to take care of a family member? Let’s reexamine the structure of the social security benefits of a mother who needs to be at home with a child. In those “non-productive” years, a big, fat zero gets factored into her earnings average.
We need to move forward with advocacy and legislative solutions. For the caregivers devoted to either our older citizens or those who make up the future generation, there has got to be a better way.