Caregiving dilemmas

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How do you decide to be a caregiver?

How we make decisions about our elderly parents is a deeply emotional issue for most of us, as illustrated by a couple of recent conversations here at the Women’s Press.”

In the August 8, 2007 issue of Minnesota Women’s Press, Kendall Anderson writes about the financial costs of caregiving. The topic of the stress caregivers face is a hot one in the media; I’m pleased that we are talking about the hit in the pocketbook women, who are most often the caregivers of elderly parents, take. In addition to the financial implications, which I’m not dismissing-they are huge, and I’m staggered by them-how we make decisions about our elderly parents is a deeply emotional issue for most of us, as illustrated by a couple of recent conversations here at the Women’s Press.

One of the conversations was between co-publisher Kathy Magnuson and me. She was questioning my decision to allow Anderson to use an anonymous source. Allowing a source to be anonymous is the scourge of most editors’ and publishers’ existence (well, I’m exaggerating, but we try hard not to use them). I was defending the decision because I totally got why the woman quoted (she’s “Sherrill Ross” in the story-the woman whose current caregiving is causing real hardship for her family) did not want her name used. These are deep, fundamental decisions. Talking about caring for a parent being a hardship is something that is too sensitive for some of us to go public with.

The decision to be made was not whether or not to use the source’s real name; since Anderson had guaranteed anonymity, the decision came down to whether or not to use the source in the story. The story was stronger with in it, and the rationale for giving anonymity seemed sufficiently strong that Ross stayed.

The other discussion was between two women in offices next to each other at the Minnesota Women’s Press. They were discussing the decision that Nancy Flanary, who is also interviewed in the story, made to quit work to care for her mother.

“I would never do that,” said the first woman, who is caregiver to her elderly mother. Her mother lives with her, and she regularly ferries her mom to doctor’s visits and other places she needs to go. Her personal schedule revolves around her mother’s health. “I would absolutely do it,” said the second woman. She is not a caregiver.

How do we make these decisions, and what do we consider in making them? Assuming that the parent in question wants the child to be the caregiver, where do we draw the line? The first woman has already given so much in caring for her mother. How can the second woman, who’s never even lived with her mother as an adult, say with such certainty that she would leave work that she loves and, financially, needs? How do some of us decide to live across the country from our elderly parents? When the choice is having a parent enter assisted living or a nursing home vs. living with us, what tips the balance one way or another? These are deep questions that I don’t have answers to, but it’s a discussion worth having.

It would be easy to say that quality of our relationships with our parents determines whether or not we will be their caregiver, and it makes some sense to think that-if you’re close to your mom, wouldn’t it be natural to want to care for her when she can no longer care for herself? Maybe. Maybe not. Some of us want to be “the good child” – maybe this is our last chance to do so, or maybe it’s the continuation of a role we’ve played for a long time. Going back to the quality of our relationship with our parents playing a role in the decision about being a caregiver-there are women who were sexually abused by their fathers who willingly care for them at the end of their lives; there are children who were rejected by their parents who care for them in a sort of effort to gain their final acceptance. And, going back to the beginning of this thought, there are women who have fine relationships with their parents who make the choice not to be their caregiver. It’s a fascinating, complex, nuanced subject.

I suspect we’ll cover various aspects of caregiving in future issues. What would you like to read, say or learn about it? Write me at editor@womenspress.com and let me know.