I was struck reading a series of blog posts on a nursing home website recently, where a writer noted that: "caregiving is a blessing."
Well, maybe, at times. But let's face it. For most, the word "blessing" would not come to mind. For many working women in their 40s and 50s who thought they were done with diapers, managing someone else's medications, and chauffeuring a small, whiny person to expensive appointments, caring for elderly parents sometimes brings this scene to mind:
The numbers tell the story: This, from the National Family Caregivers Association:
The typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for her widowed 69-year-old mother who does not live with her. She is married and employed. Approximately 66% of family caregivers are women. More than 37% have children or grandchildren under 18 years old living with them. Caregiving in the United States; National Alliance for Caregiving in collaboration with AARP. November 2009
This organization is lobbying for different policy initiatives that would help caregivers. Still, senior care has yet to draw the kind of attention or institutional workplace support as child care. (When I had to bring my elderly mom to a meeting last month, I considered launching Take Your Mother To Work Day, but, well, you know, who has time to organize it?)
But there is more frank talk about the difficulties than there were, say, five years ago. Journalist Francine Russo has written about the fissures that can erupt between siblings over parent care in a book called "They're Your Parents, Too: How Siblings Can Survive Their Parents' Aging Without Driving Each Other Crazy." And her column over at Wowowow is valuable, not just for the sound advice she offers, but for the hair-raising comments board, in which writers post about their own experiences. (You think your brother is a piece of work? Take a read!)
Here's an interview I did with Francine about her work, and some advice for sibs who are involved in caring for elderly parents.
The thing about it being a blessing? It can be true. Sometimes, if you can let things go, in the course of caring for your parents you can, out of all the stress and psychodrama, actually snatch moments of enjoyment and connection.
As Jackie Brousseau-Pereira writes in this essay, you can't plan these moments; they come up in the times (and places) when you least expect them.
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