Why Daughters Almost Always Become the ‘Designated’ Caregivers

I've Moved! The Boomer Chronicles has closed after 6 years, but you can keep up with me on my new blog at http://www.rheabecker.com

Wanna hear something scary? As baby boomers get older — and possibly develop health problems — often the only thing standing between you and living in a nursing home is….a daughter.

Laurel Kennedy has written an incredibly timely book called The Daughter Trap: Taking Care of Mom and Dad…and You, which details how women inevitably are trapped in the caregiver role, even when other siblings (males) are capable of carrying out the same responsibilities. Kennedy, an authority on multigenerational issues, says that adult daughters become the caregiver for aging relatives — whether they are prepared to or not, whether they have demanding careers or not, whether they have kids or not, whether they are geographically nearby or not. “As if it were the natural order of things, the extended family assumes that a daughter will step in and step up to the plate to handle matters — for no other reason than the fact that she’s a woman.”

Dr. Jeffrey Rosenfeld, director of the Hofstra University Gerontology Program praises the book: “Laurel Kennedy does for caregiving what Betty Friedan did for marriage and motherhood. The Daughter Trap says something new and important about aging, family and caregiving in America today.”

The book is based on hundred of interviews, and outlines what individuals, employers and others can do to alleviate the pressures of caring for elderly relatives.

10 Responses to “Why Daughters Almost Always Become the ‘Designated’ Caregivers”

  1. Irene Says:

    The natural care giving instincts are in girls. Boys just don’t get in touch with care giving. I know my husband is lost when it comes to that stuff. So I know the care of his mom and mine will be something that I step in and take over

  2. Diana Says:

    I took care of my parents, they lived only a mile away, so every day I stopped by there after work. I made supper for them on the weekends when there wasn’t any “Meals on Wheels” to bring them lunch and dinner.

    At least there was a senior bus in town to take them to their appointments, so I didn’t have to take time off from work.

  3. Suldog Says:

    My father spent more time caring for his ill father than anyone else in his family. In turn, I cared for my father for the majority of years between his heart surgery and his untimely death. My uncle currently provides, and cares for, my 104 year old grandmother, and has done so for many years. Perhaps, throughout society as a whole, women more often end up as the ones who do the caregiving – as a matter of fact, I’d bet on it – but not in my family’s experiences.

    I haven’t read the book, so maybe it’s spot on and I’d agree with it totally upon getting the full story, but stuff like this immediately puts me on the defensive, Rhea. At least initially, it sounds like knee-jerk “woman good, man bad” crap that I’ve heard far too much of in my life, and which makes me feel that I’m wasting my time NOT living down to what so many women seem to think most men are.

    Sorry. Off of my soapbox now. I really should read it, I suppose, before rushing to judgment.

  4. Emily Says:

    Quite true – but I do know instances in my own family where the guys have stepped up to the plate too. While my MIL volunteered to help with her own MIL my FIL also did a lot too. And I have a co-worker who moved his family in with his parents since they are in their 80’s and the mother has Alzheimers. While his wife does a lot (she doesn’t work) he takes time off too for his mother’s care.

  5. cyndee Says:

    i really don’t want to be that burden to my daughters yet there is a secure feeling knowing i do have them. i shared care for my mother, who had alzheimers, with my sister. my brother did step up and help with our mother but not in the day to day care.

  6. Hattie Says:

    What are we, the old country? A lot of these books are about cultural expectations. I for one feel free to live up to cultural expectations or not live up to them, depending on what I think is right.
    Without a qualm, I hired caregivers to look after my mother in law. She would not have wanted to be in a nursing home where she could not have all her stuff around her. My opinion was that we all would have been happier if she had been in a good nursing home. I helped out but did not take primary responsibility for her. My husband, her son, did more than I did. I think we women are just like men in that we will offload onerous duties onto others when and if we can. It’s just that we often get stuck holding the bag. I did not complain about the situation. I just refused to get stuck, that’s all.
    I’ve already told my daughters they are not to get into the caregiver trap with me. I’d rather go to a home, and there is no reason not to, if it is a well run one. So I’ll save my money so I can afford good accomodations if and when the time comes.

  7. JP Gal Says:

    Having for the past seven years assisted my partner in the care of her disabled mother and having many friends and colleagues of the age when their parents’ health begins to fail, I can tell you that this is a real and staggering problem in many, many families. And the responsibility for providing uncompensated care doesn’t just fall on daughters — it falls on daughters-in-law, granddaughters, neices, and even the nice women next door to the elderly or infirm parent.

    Everyone should read this NY Times column, which sums up this complex, multi-generational problem better than anything else I’ve seen:


    We all know individual men who are wonderful, committed, self-sacrificing caregivers, and I commend Suldog for everything he talks about in his post. But just as we all know that the election of an African-American didn’t end racism in this country, so, too, the actions of a few good men have not ended this inequity. Suldog, try not to be defensive, don’t expect extra credit for being a good guy, and do reach out to help support other caregivers, who are mostly women. And Hattie, it’s good that you had the option to pay for extra help, but not every family does.

  8. Hattie Says:

    JP Gal: Yes, we could pay for my MIL’s deluxe care, since she had a government pension from her late husband.
    The Republicans like the idea of forcing people to take care of their own family members. It’s cheap.

  9. Retirement Scenarios » Blogging Boomers Carnival #161 Says:

    [...] The Boomer Chronicles wants to know, why do adult daughters almost always end up the caregiver for aging relatives? [...]

  10. Rita Says:

    My mother would not move in with me or move to my community for her elder years. That meant I had to drive two weekends a month 350 miles to see her and manage her affairs. She had a massive heart attack and was in a nursing home for eight years. You just do what you have to do.

    Although I have two sisters, two daughters, and three nieces, the majority of the responsibility fell to me — including trying to keep up my mom’s house and yard.

    I also helped to manage the affairs of two aunts who were in nursing homes when it became too much for my mom to handle.

    My parents and aunts and uncles are all gone now, except for one aunt. Now I’m thinking about becoming the older generation and what to do about my future.

    Rita blogging at The Survive and Thrive Boomer Guide

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