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Opinion | Sexuality

When a Daughter Must Parent Her Parents

A new study shows why caring for aging parents more often falls on women than on men.
When a Daughter Must Parent Her Parents
Image: Halfpoint / Envato

A few minutes ago I got the news that my daughter's mother-in-law has stage 4 cancer. I was still staring at the computer screen, trying to digest the information, when a friend forwarded me a report on a Canadian study with this headline: "Female Caregivers Face a Heavier Toll."

Yes, we do. My mother died almost exactly 15 years ago, four months after my father died. Both had Alzheimer's disease. Both were in a nursing home about five minutes from my house. I visited them at least several times a week, sometimes daily.

"We're so glad we had a daughter," my mother used to tell me. "It's only the daughters who visit." She wasn't entirely right: Several sons joined the many women who visited regularly. Though the study said six in ten caregivers are women, in my parents' nursing home the number must have been closer to eight in ten.

Warning: If you are a woman with a spouse, parents, or parents-in-law, you are likely to spend a number of years as a caregiver.

"In terms of society's norms, the responsibility to care for parents tends to fall on the women," said Marina Bastawrous, the author of the study, who discovered that 40 percent of female caregivers experience high-level stress. Women, she noted, are more likely than men to quit their jobs in order to care for their parents. When my parents started needing more care than I could handle along with my demanding job, I cut my hours back to 30 a week. Eventually I ...

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