I had the important experience of meeting and knowing both my grandmothers. This is significant to me, having lived in the U.S. for almost my entire life, because I was separated from the family tree and had only occasional opportunities to go “home” and take shade under the canopy of my enormous extended family.
It was the women of the family who were my grandmothers’ caretakers. I remember wondering how my aunts felt about their lives. While taking care of their mothers, many were also taking care of their own children, and some even their grandchildren while their daughters went to work. It seemed like a very demanding existence.
In the U.S., such people are said to belong to the “sandwich generation”: individuals who care for both children and parents. Latinos are less likely than other segments of the population to opt for parental placement in nursing care facilities. Undoubtedly, that will change and those numbers will rise.
For those of us who adhere to the tradition of home care for our wise elders, the personal sacrifices are many. The overall toll of caring for another individual affects the entire family, not just that of the primary care-giver. But the effects of the stress would surely be mitigated if the primary responsibility were not concentrated in the hands of one person.
Consider simply the economic impact on women. Women already tend toward financial insecurity. The reasons are varied and well documented. On average, women are still paid less than men. Many take time away from the workforce to raise children. Add to that having to retire early due to care-giving responsibilities, and the ability of women in this position to be financially secure into their own elderly years is compromised. They, in turn, will be dependent on their own families for care and support.
Families would benefit if we taught all children to respect and care for all life, but certainly for our elders. It is crucial that we instill in sons and daughters to share responsibility for the care of their family. A burden shared is a burden made lighter. Of course, changing personal and family dynamics is a fundamental shift that must occur to allow for easing many of the side effects of caring for an elderly relative, but it is not the only one.
Better financial planning within families, to assess future needs of relatives, and planning with regards to the actual labor of caring for the loved one are crucial steps to achieve the best situation possible with regards to elder care. It is crucial to pressure legislators to strengthen laws, regarding what is considered acceptable for dignified institutional care and adequate funding for regulatory agencies to monitor conditions, since some families will be faced with the difficult decision to place a relative in a home. Lastly, forgiveness of ourselves, if we are the ones making these heart wrenching decisions.