A recent article in The New York Times about motherhood yielded a spot-on observation about eldercare and daughterhood.
After author Karen Rinaldi wrote about whether or not motherhood is a sacrifice or a privilege, a woman named Janice Nelson, commented, “…women do sacrifice the most when caregiving is needed. I am not talking raising children like this article alludes to, but managing to care for chronically ill children and aging parents, and many times both at the same time…These women sacrifice their jobs, their health, their own well-being to become caretaker. Our society is not set up, including Medicare, to offer help. They often go it alone. Many times silently. They do not take weeks at a beachouse or even a short respite to dine with friends…”
Amen! The New York Times has published many great articles and essays about mothers over the years, including Rinaldi’s, but not nearly enough on adult daughters. So it was helpful to see this reader capture and share the reality of so many American women through her response. And, what Rinaldi had to say about motherhood, applies to daughterhood as well.
Rinaldi, in her article, was examining the idea of sacrifice vs. privilege because, as she wrote, “…the language we use and the stories we tell ourselves can be very powerful — for better and for worse.” This is as true for daughterhood as it is for motherhood.
Eldercare is rarely, and perhaps never, something we think about before we are actually doing it. In contrast, many women dream about motherhood. We play with dolls as children. We look for a suitable partner with whom we will raise children. We think about how it will impact our careers – should I have children early or later in life? Should I work part time or lean in full force? Raise your hand if you ever played pretend eldercare or if you made career choices based on your desire to one day care for your parents. I recognize the latter does happen sometimes. But the former? Doubtful. It’s more likely that eldercare happens to us. And when it does, the stories we tell ourselves matter.
Like motherhood, daughterhood, can be more than one thing. It can be both a sacrifice and a privilege. Both a burden and a boon. We caregivers often feel isolated, overwhelmed, angry even. Likewise we can feel lucky, strong, competent, and dare I say…blessed? To care for someone in their most vulnerable moments is truly incredible even when we sacrifice our jobs, our health, and our own well-being.
Now by no means should we deny the challenges of caregiving. By no means should we subscribe to the “caregiving is a gift” flowery memes that are not only not helpful, but can actually be harmful. By no means should we deny our truth. And by no means, should we stop advocating for the support we need. But we should also acknowledge the positive. We should also mind our stories.
If our stories include stress, they probably also include strength. If they include chaos, they most likely include resilience. If they involve loneliness, then they probably include fortitude. If fear is a factor, I”ll bet bravery is too.
What’s your story working daughter? It’s yours to write.
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