A daughter and son visit their ailing mother in her assisted-living apartment. The daughter organizes her mother's wardrobe, cleans her dentures, and is the one Mom comes to when she needs diapers. The son spends his visit "tap-tap-tapping on his BlackBerry." So who gets all the praise for being a wonderful child? If you guessed the son, you must already be familiar with the dilemma Jane Gross describes in "Dividing the Caregiving Duties, It’s Daughters vs. Sons," her post on the New York Times' New Old Age blog. According to Gross — and Dutiful Daughters (and Sainted Sons), a website she references — it's common for daughters to do all the hard work in caring for aging parents, and her sons to get all the credit. But instead of complaining, daughters should just shut up and deal with it.Gross writes that daughters, rather than sons, caring for their parents are still the norm. So when sons do anything at all, they get accolades, while daughters are merely doing what's expected. Moreover, daughters are more likely to do the dirty work of caregiving — they handle the diapers, while their brothers fill out Medicaid forms. Unfair, right? Sure, but Gross tells readers "not to waste energy on this particular iteration of the gender wars." "It is what it is," she writes, "and this arduous interval is a dumb time for a feminist hissy fit. Far wiser to bow to the stereotypes and delegate every male-suitable task you can think of to your brother(s)." Martha Foley, of Dutiful Daughters (and Sainted Sons), agrees. She says that women get so mad at their brothers during the caregiving process because men suffer less emotionally and are better at compartmentalizing. DD (and SS) echoes this gender divide, saying "Men are pragmatic fixers who prefer stoicism. Women are natural nurturers who show their emotions freely." Foley also tells Gross that "expectations are what create stress. Having no expectations, if you can get to that point, as a female, is the key to good sibling interactions." So, to recap: women are too emotional about caregiving, and rather than trying to eke out an equitable arrangement, they should lower their expectations — no, strike that, eliminate their expectations. All they can do is assign their brothers "male-suitable tasks" and then go back to being selfless and nonconfrontational. While it makes sense that a crisis in an aging parent's life isn't the time to fight about who does what, surely in calmer moments siblings could talk about fairness. And surely women whose parents are still healthy can start having these conversations with their brothers now. Men aren't "pragmatic-fixer" machines — they're people, capable of adjusting their behavior. But they'll have no reason to if their sisters don't ask. Dividing the Caregiving Duties, It’s Daughters vs. Sons [NY Times] Dutiful Daughters (and Sainted Sons) [Official Site]
I hate to say it, but sometimes the path of least resistance is the easiest here. It's not going to start a revolution or anything, but at least the parent will get taken care of. That being said, communication at the beginning of a parent's/relative's decline about who will take on what roles and where they can go for support if needed is crucial.