Ladies, we didn’t make it through our 30s and into our mid 40s surviving the so-called Mommy Wars only to find ourselves facing Daughter Wars as we move into our 50s and 60s. I, for one, am not playing. Consider me a conscientious objector of any lady fights.
What are the Daughter Wars, you ask? They are the judgment-filled, guilt-ridden reactions to how we care for our aging parents. And they resemble the psychological warfare many women experienced as new mothers.
Back when we were caring for infants, our RSS feeds served up a steady stream of blog posts and accompanying comments about whether breast was best or bottle was the way to reenter the workforce full throttle. We read article after article in the mainstream media about staying home, leaning in, and opting out. And of course we posted our own opinions on Facebook – each entry a seeming attack on your choices, her choices, our choices.
The Mommy Wars didn’t bother me personally; they bothered me globally. Frankly I never gave a rat’s ass if you served your child breast milk or formula, used cloth or disposable diapers, Ferberized or co-slept, worked, stayed home or became a mompreneur (although I do have judgy feelings about that word). As far as my own parenting decisions? Well, my children latched on easily, I needed to earn a living, and I could never master the swaddle. Those were the only factors that influenced my choices; it was never about your opinion.
But on a global level, it very much bothered me that the concept of Mommy Wars existed. It bothered me that marketers and media seemed to prey and capitalize on mothers’ doubts. And let’s face it, earlier motherhood is a doubtful time. But if we lacked confidence, it stemmed from the fact that we were responsible for a tiny, vulnerable life, not from other women. Sure, there were always people ready to offer unsolicited advice, but their input came from a place of genuine caring at best, or fear and insecurity at worst. We women weren’t at war with each other as much as we were under siege by companies that wanted to sell us products but not support us as employees, media that wanted to use us as click bait but not actually amplify our voices, and elected officials that wanted to control us but not assist us.
And that’s where we find ourselves again, isn’t it? Except now we’re not responsible for the start of another human’s life; now we’re stewarding family members through the end of their life. And that is an awesome and doubt-inducing duty. And instead of feeling doubt and judgment for our parenting decisions, we feel doubt and judgment for our daughtering decisions. Do we help our parents age at home or do we move them in with us? Do we steer them toward assisted living or a nursing home? Do we advocate for aggressive medical intervention or suggest palliative care? And while we are grappling with those decisions, we still lack any meaningful support from our employers, the media, and our legislators.
Once again we’re left to sort through important decisions alone – mostly. One of the big differences between mothering and daughtering is that with mothering, we are expected to make decisions for helpless babies, but with daughtering we must also factor in the wishes of aging adults, and that can get complicated. Decisions about eldercare must take into account the needs of the elderly person, the caregiver, and the caregiver’s family and career. And we make those decisions based on our own family dynamics, values, and cultures – no one else’s.
So when marketers release studies that state things like 60 percent of baby boomers say caring for elderly in their own homes is better than in an assisted living facility, it’s not only not helpful, it can be harmful. When the discharge nurse just assumes your mother will stay with you post-hospitalization, that too can do damage. And when a well-meaning friend or family member imparts an unwelcome and uninformed opinion about what’s best for you and your elderly parent, it is absolutely not helpful and it can make even the most self-confident woman think the Daughter Wars have begun.
But ladies, resist! You may feel your flight or fight response has been activated in these situations but it won’t help. Fleeing doesn’t work – you can’t outrun eldercare. And fighting gains you nothing. Because the bottom line is this: only you and the person you care for, with input from health professionals and senior care specialists, can determine what is best for your family. Sometimes aging in home or in a relative’s home is the best option for a senior’s well being. Sometimes a facility or institution will provide the best quality of care, access to services, and socialization. As with parenting, there is no one, right answer. The best decisions and outcomes will stem from a clear head, an open heart, a supportive network and a guilt-free conscience. And no one should feel guilty for doing their best – even when their best is imperfect.
And while I actually do give a rat’s ass how you care for your aging parent – because I want to support you in that journey – I will not enter into any Daughter Wars with other family caregivers. Instead, I will go to battle for better support structures, education and legislation, to help both the elderly and the people who care for them. We are not at war with each other, fellow daughters. We are under attack. Who will join my army?Caregivers, no one should feel guilty for doing their best – even when their best is imperfect. Click To Tweet