"Daughter Care," or Emotional Labor
May 12, 2017 3:13 AM   Subscribe

“The best long-term care insurance in our country is a conscientious daughter..." "Though men do provide some caregiving for older family members with dementia, the burden is not shared equally," experts say. Per the cited article (paywalled), "The mainstay of treatment is functional support, and 83% of caregiving comes from unpaid sources: family. The average person with dementia requires 171 hours of care per month, which is more than 100 hours more care per month than those without dementia (mean of 66 hours per month)." Similarly, the Guardian looks at aging and health support for childless couples and childless women, encouraging a more active role of the state.
posted by stillmoving (47 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite
It's sickening how much of the slack of society is put on these women. It struck me as particularly cruel that women are expected to tend to their in-laws, but many of their husbands feel no need to do the same. So much of this is ignored, just because it takes place in the house. And having a full-time job is no excuse.

Even when this work is paid, it's just ridiculously undervalued. Wasn't it just a couple years ago that health aides got the same protections as the people working in Walmart? The idea that this isn't valued, isn't work, is despicable.
posted by Trifling at 4:41 AM on May 12, 2017 [22 favorites]

It ain't just emotional labor. It's labor, period.

It's traumatic labor, of course, since it involves sacrifice, the reversal of roles, and all-around unpleasantness. For instance, I had sciatica for quite a while due to the stress and strain of getting my mother in and out of my car to go to doctor's visits (Parkinson's involves not only the well-known tremor but the lesser-known dementia, depression, and severe balance problems). And I was a full-time teacher (which is much more than full-time work) while I did it.

I'll point out that though many daughters (and sons, spouses, male and female) do the work of caring for people with dementia, plenty of older people are warehoused.

It's easy to distance this by talking about "the elderly," as if getting older made you a separate species, but you have to understand that older people are you; they don't feel any less human or entitled to respect because they got older.
posted by Peach at 4:47 AM on May 12, 2017 [30 favorites]

As per usual, the Onion got there first.
posted by Cocodrillo at 5:20 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

My husband sent that Onion article to me when I was on my 10th trip to Ohio in a year dealing with my mother's dementia and health issues.
posted by Cocodrillo at 5:22 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Dementia is a horrible, horrible illness. I'm not even sure what a good care plan looks like - even if family members were given a government stipend and healthcare, etc, they could be looking at ten years of round the clock care as someone declines, and that not only derails any career, dating, family or social hopes you may have, but it also takes a huge psychological toll. (I have a family member who has had a dementing disorder for thirteen years and has required 24/7 care for the past five. They are completely healthy and could live another ten years easily.) When you need to care for someone 24/7, you stop being able to sleep deeply. People with this condition also sometimes become noisy as they lose language, so you can be dealing with someone who spends much of their waking day yelling, wordlessly moaning, etc. Sometimes someone is in such a state that it is not safe to leave them alone in a room.

The best thing I can imagine is a mixture of group day care, respite care and family care, but that would require moving the patient around a lot, which is hard.

Frankly, the "living longer at the end of life with illness" that the article holds up as a great feature of modern times does not seem like a great feature to me.
posted by Frowner at 5:24 AM on May 12, 2017 [33 favorites]

The other thing about the Medicare spend-down - the surviving spouse can be left with too little to live on. We looked into this - the spouse would be left with social security and that's about it, and that would not be enough to maintain the family home, modest though it is. So the surviving partner would be looking at extreme poverty after a lifetime of saving, even if the ill spouse were put in a nursing home, and it's not like nursing homes are very nice, either, unless you have a lot of money.
posted by Frowner at 5:26 AM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

The conscientious daughter and/or the dutiful son. I attended both parents through dementia into death. The hardest, most draining and scarring thing I have ever done or will likely do. I have promised those near me I will never inflict it upon them if I can possibly avoid it. And it won't be a sacrifice. The quality of life is so near zero towards the end I believe it should be avoided at all costs...
posted by jim in austin at 5:31 AM on May 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

My mother's quality of life was good until the end in many ways, despite the dementia and the loss of mobility; she voted in an election a month before she died, and continued to minister to her fellow skilled-care patients as an Episcopal priest. Yet she died, ultimately, by her own hand, because she decided to stop eating and drinking before the disease could force that decision on her.

Unfortunately, she had lost much of her ability to speak when she made that decision, so I had to guess what she was doing by her expression when I tried to feed her.

Don't forget that making the decision to end your life is often as traumatic for family members as choosing to sustain it. It's a lose-lose scenario.
posted by Peach at 5:34 AM on May 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

My wife and I cared for her mom through Alzheimer's/Parkinson's. I was the primary care-giver, since my situation allowed me more flexibility in working from home. At least that was the theory -- in practice, in very short order it became almost impossible to accomplish much of anything other than care-giving because it was so exhausting. We chronicled it in a memoir* with another family where the son-in-law was also the primary care-giver (we met through online support communities), in hopes that others -- particularly men -- would better appreciate what it means to be a care provider, and what sacrifices we as a society impose primarily on those 'conscientious daughters'.

*Info in my profile.
posted by Shadan7 at 5:41 AM on May 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

It struck me as particularly cruel that women are expected to tend to their in-laws, but many of their husbands feel no need to do the same.

And in my sister's family, it's the matriarch who insists on continuing that cultural tradition -- my sister's mother-in-law absolutely refuses to let her sons or son-in-law physically care for her in any way. If she needs anything in the way of health care, any kind of physical assistance, only her daughters or daughters-in-law are allowed to do it. Her son who DRIVES AN AMBULANCE FOR A LIVING is not.
posted by JanetLand at 6:02 AM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

I (a woman) quit my postdoc and thus my academic career to move home and take care of my mom as she was dying of cancer. I was fortunate to have an employed husband at home, so I wasn't worried about paying for things, but it was the hardest thing I've ever done, and I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy.

I'd hoped hospice would relieve some of the burden, once my mom got that referral. I remember when the in-home hospice nurse came by to discuss how the in-home hospice process worked, and she told me that a person couldn't start in-home hospice without a full-time, able-bodied adult at home. That has haunted me to this day, thinking about all of the (mostly) women who may have to quit jobs and bankrupt themselves while also taking care of a loved one. My mom died about a week after starting in-home care, after fighting for over 3 years. I'd hoped hospice would relieve some of the burden. The hospice nurse came to our house only twice, I think: once to set up a morphine drip, and once to pronounce her dead.
posted by joan cusack the second at 6:09 AM on May 12, 2017 [17 favorites]

Peach: My mom in the last several years of her life was essentially a potted plant. Her only means of interacting with the external world was by biting. I still have faint scars on my chest and shoulders from lugging her about. My dad, ever the contrarian, simply descended into fear, paranoia and megalomania. Both were eventually incapable of the simplest tasks, including personal maintenance and hygiene.

My wife suffered through this with me. We sold our home and moved in with my parents to provide 24/7 care and supervision, including baby monitors and motion detectors. She also became the sole bread-winner. Having seen and experienced all this, she concurs with my proposed solution, should it become necessary. Neither she nor I want to experience this again, from either side of the equation.

posted by jim in austin at 6:24 AM on May 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

My family had six children taking care of our father, who needed extended care, three girls, three boys. It seems the boys were the ones to handle acute incidents, and the girls held up the day-to-day.

One of the nurses told my father, "You did one thing right to save your life. You had three daughters."
posted by StickyCarpet at 6:27 AM on May 12, 2017 [9 favorites]

jim in austin: I support that, and my mother was lucky I was on the same wavelength as she was, so when I knew she didn't want to eat or drink I didn't force her. When the doctor called, I refused to let them take her to the hospital. The facility knew me because I was there all the time. It worked out.

It doesn't always. My mother-in-law ended up on a ventilator even though she had health care directive and we were pretty sure she took an overdose of warfarin when a bad infection interfered with her mobility; the family had to take legal action to get her off it. And we were all on the same page, too.

Best laid plans etc.
posted by Peach at 6:28 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

Previously thread on the never-married and/or childfree aging phenomenon. Thankfully, MeFites, at least now, aren't so much with flinging "OMGSELFISH if you die alone YOU DESERVE IT" but needless to say, I've seen it plenty on other sites.

Having kids - even daughters! - is obviously no guarantee; they could predecease you, be severely disabled and need care themselves, live far away, be uncaring, etc. etc.

I wonder how far this "dutiful daughter as care guarantee" will go in the future, because smaller families have been the norm for some time. In 1976, four in ten mothers aged 40 to 44 had four or more children; today only 14% do. The vast majority of moms have one or two children now. If a parent has an only son who doesn't marry or commit to a woman, are they SOL?

I chose not to have children, in fact, I'm adamantly childfree, and, even if I had kids, I wouldn't want them to give up their lives to care for me. I agree with Frowner that our longer lifespans are not an unalloyed blessing. I have a hard time seeing a long life spent frail and demented as anything but a burden. I am with Rahm Emmanuel (previously) in that if I reach 75, it's palliative care only from there on in. I would feel the same way if I had kids, TBH.

In addition to being childfree, I'm a pinko commie socialist, who thinks that taxing the hell out of corporations and the rich - returning to a rate we had in the US, as national treasure Stephanie Coontz has pointed out - and creating a social safety net for both young and old is the rational solution. We're a wealthy country, ffs, we could afford terrific state-run elder-care homes! Nice ones that have good food and allow pets! I know we don't have the will, especially with ol' Granny Starver Paul Ryan in charge, but we could afford it, and I think it's the only humane solution for both old people and their families.
posted by Rosie M. Banks at 6:31 AM on May 12, 2017 [29 favorites]

It ain't just emotional labor. It's labor, period.

Thank you. I would say that the only way to cope with e.g. scrubbing the floor while your mother cries in the other room in humiliation over not being able to make it to the bathroom in time before falling down is by turning off your emotions altogether.

two most infuriating article moments: the guy who doesn't blame his dad for not helping his mom out with her own mother because ha, why would you blame your dad for that? and the final closing quote about why do women do this anyway -- overdeveloped sense of obligation or what? They do it because when men don't do it, you do it or the ill person dies badly. When men refuse to care for themselves or their parents, some woman does it. When women refuse, somebody pays other women to do it. When there's no money to hire underpaid women, nobody does it. That's why.

The cliche about how in unequal marriages, some men will purposely do a shitty job of vacuuming or dishwashing so that their exasperated wives will say, oh, just let me do it, and take over, and how can you complain that he doesn't help when you're not satisfied with his best efforts? -- that applies here, too, but it is so horrible in its consequences I don't even want to expand on it. suffice it to say it is as horrible as you can imagine. and to an outsider? well, he tried, but it was so hard for him.
posted by queenofbithynia at 6:43 AM on May 12, 2017 [48 favorites]

My mom in the last several years of her life was essentially a potted plant. Her only means of interacting with the external world was by biting.
I'm sorry. That sounds so awful.

But my grandmother was mentally ok until the end. The doctors thought she had mild dementia, but I'm not sure they were right. I didn't notice big changes, anyway. She was still sharp and funny and mean. She still enjoyed watching basketball (pro, not college) and was slightly obsessed with the TV show "The Affair." Two weeks before she died, she told me she was ready to go, but up until then I think she wanted to stay alive. She bragged that she was going to make it to 100, and she came pretty close.

My grandmother was the absolute best-case scenario: she maintained most of her cognitive capacity and was in pretty good physical health for her age, and she was a member of a supportive community and had some resources at her disposal. And it was still hell on my mom. I fully support the right to die, and I wouldn't want to live for years with dementia or other disabling cognitive impairment, but I don't think that suicide is a solution to this issue.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 7:00 AM on May 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

As a nurse and midwife, I wholeheartedly agree that this is pure labor--but I do think it falls under the "emotional labor" banner as it's just now that it's gaining recognition as having an impact on industry; and a shocked and nauseated LOL at "a conscientious daughter," not son or child or spouse or nephew or friend, but daughter.

jiminaustin, I know there are plenty of dutiful sons and other family members such as yourself, and I'm sorry you had to go through the caretaking of your own mother. I posted this not to minimize the experience of yourself and others, but to highlight how appalling it is that care duties are still considered the domain of the daughter alone.
posted by stillmoving at 7:09 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

If I had had children, like all my siblings did, I wouldn't have been able to care for my mom in her aging, as I am now.
posted by The otter lady at 7:09 AM on May 12, 2017 [11 favorites]

stillmoving: No criticism intended. I'm sure the majority of care is indeed provided by daughters due to societal constructs but there are still outliers in any sample...
posted by jim in austin at 7:33 AM on May 12, 2017

It's hard for me to read this thread. My mom was diagnosed with Parkinson's 5 or 6 years ago, and while things seem to be okay now, I know the drugs eventually become less effective.
posted by sevenyearlurk at 7:36 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

ArbitraryAndCapricious : I don't think of this as a suicide. Rather, in this particular case, i see it as a merciful euthanasia that relieves the suffering of all involved but the state somehow refuses to provide...
posted by jim in austin at 7:53 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

That Guardian article is excellent.

As a childless woman (not by choice) staring down the barrel of another painful Mother's Day, I found it hard to read. But it raised some great points about having someone look after emotional needs in aging and how the state needs to play a role in that. Even when there are children or family to look after elderly people, it shouldn't put them into "caregiving hell," and no one should feel alone and abandoned just because they haven't got blood relatives to care for them and spend time with them.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 7:57 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

My dad was incapable of managing his mother's care (dementia, physically very fragile) and my mother is a narcissist, so I ended up taking care of her. I spent about a year in bed with major depression after that. My husband is ENTIRELY taking care of his two elderly parents, one in late stage dementia who lives in 24 hr. nursing care and he wouldn't have it otherwise. The idea that men are not able, qualified or shouldn't have to take care of their parents is the most galling piece of drivel and my father was all too happy to go along with it.
posted by Sophie1 at 8:08 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

The sad part is, even if you have the means to outsource some of the caregiving hell to a nursing you still may be stuck doing a ton of emotional labor to make sure the home does its part. I work in a nursing home where the administration is obsessed with profits and has cut staffing to the bone in an attempt to squeeze out a few more dollars for themselves. Without enough floor staff, residents don't get diapers changed as regularly, wind up with pressure ulcers from staying in bed too long, miss small medical treatments that can add up over time--the list goes on.

So then, as a caregiver, you're stuck keeping on the nursing home's back. My floor now has to have administrators observe our meals every day, because a resident's daughter called the state with concerns about our lack of staffing leading to people not eating. I've heard another caregiver, a son, say that managing her care within the home has become a second job. These caregivers are generally sympathetic to the fact that we're so short staffed, and I sympathize with them for trying to get the best for their relatives. My anger is reserved for the (mostly white) administrators who seem to think that the (mostly not-white) floor staff are simultaneously superhuman and interchangeable pieces who can be replaced when they're sick of being worked to death.
posted by ActionPopulated at 8:35 AM on May 12, 2017 [20 favorites]

My dad was incapable of managing his mother's care

I totally get that, Sophie1. My dad was the same way. And don't even get me started on the care that he expects me to do for him, being both a daughter and an only child. This after he left us when I was a small child, threatening to leave us homeless, and then refusing to pay child support. I couldn't even quit my job to stay home fulltime with my babies, but he thinks I will be his fulltime caregiver when the need arises. I've been blunt about it for years now but I don't think he believes me. He's in for a helluva shock.

But back to your comment. I'm reading this as both a wife of someone who was raised in a very patriarchal society (and yet still tries to divide parental care-giving duties equally with his sisters) and as the mother of boys. I think it's upon me to teach my kids (regardless of sex) to share and participate in emotional labor. It's on my husband too, and while he's more progressive regarding gender roles than a lot of guys I know, he still needs his conciousness raised a bit further. So I take the lead on this topic.

I look at men who are older than me who don't participate in emotional labor and while I do think "hey, open your eyes, it doesn't happen by magic" (like with my father), I'm also aware that their expectations have been shaped by their own mothers and fathers. It's a learned incompetence. We can teach the older men in our lives that this is real labor, but we also have to make sure we're teaching our kids that we have higher expectations too.
posted by vignettist at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2017 [4 favorites]

This frightens me as a childless woman with no close relatives and no assets. When my health begins to fail, I will have no support; I will likely die from lack of basic care.

But when I consider what my mother went through with my grandmother, it almost seems like a better outcome. I wouldn't want to inflict that on anybody.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:48 AM on May 12, 2017 [12 favorites]

"“We see a lot of daughters caring not only for their parents, but their in-laws,” she added.

Anyone else get a chill down their spine reading that extra bit? I mean, it's not unfair enough that it falls on the sisters, but if there are no sisters, well, then, the brothers' wives are still the next on deck?
posted by Mchelly at 9:19 AM on May 12, 2017 [14 favorites]

As a childless person, I try to be REALLY good and attentive to my niece AND nephew and my friends' kids (boys and girls), and I shamelessly tell them regularly that they will need to take care of me when I get old and decrepit...
posted by twsf at 9:21 AM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I mean, I adore my mother-in-law and will be glad to help out if/when she needs me, but there's no way I would see it as my expected role, even if my husband didn't have sisters - I'd still assume I'd be last on the list of responsibility, certainly after him.
posted by Mchelly at 9:22 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

This is exactly what happened to my dad right before he was about to go to grad school. He was all set to go to MIT, and ended up NOT going because he had to take care of his dying father, which infuriates me because of the enormous missed opportunity.

In the case that anything similar happens to him in the near future, I know the burden will be placed entirely on me. My brother has mobility issues due to severe vertigo, and can barely take care of himself.
posted by Delia at 9:26 AM on May 12, 2017

My MIL lives in a huge retirement community, and there are plenty of elderly men there who are widowers or otherwise living alone, and while they may have made friends with other men, it seems that even then it is their female neighbors or their male friends' wives who are doing a lot of the checking-in and filling the gap between living alone and needing full time care. So ladies, even if you're retired and elderly yourself, you will be expected to care for people you're not even related to.
posted by nakedmolerats at 9:28 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Just to drive the point home, since the link to the facts in the main article is a few years old.

- In 2016, 15.9 million family and friends provided 18.2 billion hours of unpaid assistance to those with Alzheimer's and other dementias, a contribution to the nation valued at $230.1 billion.
- 2/3 are women.
- 41% have annual household incomes less than 50k.
- 25% are sandwich caregivers - they are taking care of their own kids and their parents.
- 35% suffer their own health problems as a result of caregiving.

If that weren't bad enough, the paid caregiving situation is bleak as well. The average paid caregiver is a 42‐year‐old single minority mother with high‐school education or less; average income of $17,000 / year.

/surely the AHCA will save us!
posted by Lutoslawski at 9:39 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

The term emotional labor gets a little overused, I think. Originally, it was coined to describe the emotion-managing component of paid work outside the home, mostly in customer facing positions where part of your job is to manage their experience by projecting positive emotions, but also among coworkers. Emotion work was the term for the same types of behaviors at home and in other social situations.

But lifting and scrubbing and health care and all that stuff is physical labor as well, which doesn't fall under the definition of 'emotional labor/work.' While it definitely has that aspect, it's also hard physical and cognitive labor.

My mom died last month after living for many years with Alzheimer's, and my sister was her primary caregiver. I'd go out whenever I could to give her a break, to help out, and take care of urgent issues, but toward the end, it took up pretty much every waking hour my sister had, and many of her non-waking hours as well. There were reasons other than gender that she ended up filling that role, and my family has always been considerably more progressive than most, but still, I have a hard time imagining my brothers in that role.

As mom's illness progressed and it became obvious that she was going to need round the clock care, I took our brothers aside (there are two of them, and both live further away than either of we daughters did) and told them that we needed to get our sister some kind of regular salary. To their credit, they didn't push back much, so the rest of us pretty much abdicated our inheritances so our sister would be paid something, without having to come to us and ask and explain what she needed money for. She needed money because she was doing work for us and she deserved to be paid. It wasn't enough, but we made sure she had a regular income, and now that Mom's gone, we're giving our sister the house and whatever else is left, because she earned it many times over, and because she needs it, after giving up just about everything else in her life to ensure that our mom was able to live and die at home.

We were lucky, in that there even was any money. If we hadn't had even that, I have no idea what her last days would have been like, except that it would have been even worse for her than it was.

It is deeply fucked up just how few resources are available for situations like this, and how many people suffer from it.
posted by ernielundquist at 9:55 AM on May 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

The actual caretaking is often physical labor. The cultural expectation, guilting, and life rearranging that overwhelmingly falls on women to perform the caretaking - for free- is emotional labor.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:03 AM on May 12, 2017 [19 favorites]

I thought about making this an FPP but never did: Who will care for the caregivers? There's a lot of good stuff in the article, so I recommend clicking through to read it, but here's a taste:
According to AARP and the National Alliance for Caregiving, the typical family caregiver is a 49-year-old woman caring for an older relative — but nearly a quarter of caregivers are now millennials and are equally likely to be male or female. About one-third of caregivers have a full-time job, and 25 percent work part time. A third provide more than 21 hours of care per week. Family caregivers are, of course, generally unpaid, but the economic value of their care is estimated at $470 billion a year — roughly the annual American spending on Medicaid.

A recent report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine suggests that society’s reliance on this “work force” — largely taken for granted — is unsustainable. While the demand for caregivers is growing because of longer life expectancies and more complex medical care, the supply is shrinking, a result of declining marriage rates, smaller family sizes and greater geographic separation. In 2015, there were seven potential family caregivers for every person over 80. By 2030, this ratio is expected to be four-to-one, and by 2050, there will be fewer than three potential caregivers for every older American.

This volunteer army is put at great financial risk. Sixty percent of those caring for older family members report having to reduce the number of hours they work, take a leave of absence or make other career changes. Half say they’ve gotten into work late, or had to leave early. One in five report significant financial strain. Family caregivers over 50 who leave the work force lose, on average, more than $300,000 in wages and benefits over their lifetimes.

Even worse, perhaps, is the physical and emotional toll of extended caregiving. Family caregivers are more likely to experience negative health effects like anxiety, depression and chronic disease. One study found that those who experienced mental or emotional stress while caring for a disabled spouse were 63 percent more likely to die within four years than noncaregivers who were also tracked. Another study found that long-term caregivers have disrupted immune systems even three years after their caregiving roles have ended. And caregivers of patients with long I.C.U. stays have high levels of depressive symptoms that can last for more than a year.
The article goes on to discuss potential supports for caregivers from medical professionals - it's scary stuff. I'm not a caregiver right now, but I do have a lot of childless aunts and uncles (in addition to two living parents) and I worry about how much my brothers and I will be able to handle.
posted by R a c h e l at 10:08 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

Alzheimer's runs in my family, and if they don't develop an effective treatment in 20 or so years I'm going to need to plan on moving to a jurisdiction with legal assisted suicide. Like Terry Pratchett, I do not intend to allow my self to dissolve while my brain rots away leaving the husk of a body with no me left, I will die by my own hand first. I've seen it in two close relatives so far and I have absolutely no intention of suffering the same way. My partner and I have discussed it, and she agrees with my position. So that's me taken care of anyway,

Both my mother and mother-in-law are nearing the age when care may be needed (so far it hasn't been), and when that happens I know that my wife is the only one who is capable of providing the care, neither of her siblings are suitable or willing. By then we hope we'll have enough money for a place big enough, the plan is for whichever parent (or both) to move in with us when the time comes.
posted by sotonohito at 10:33 AM on May 12, 2017 [2 favorites]

The actual caretaking is often physical labor. The cultural expectation, guilting, and life rearranging that overwhelmingly falls on women to perform the caretaking - for free- is emotional labor.

Both the terms emotional labor and emotion work were coined by the sociologist Arlie Hochschild, and a key part of the difference in the terms is that emotional labor is an aspect of paid work specifically, so you are literally being paid to perform specific emotions, and failing to do that has direct financial consequences. Emotion work is the term she coined for the cultural expectations to manage your and others' emotional responses in social spheres.
posted by ernielundquist at 10:54 AM on May 12, 2017 [7 favorites]

So ladies, even if you're retired and elderly yourself, you will be expected to care for people you're not even related to.


My aunt made it work for her. She was a very practical and matter-of-fact woman, always with her eye on the prize. She lived in a well-known retirement community here; she had a spare bedroom and would accept roommates. They were always men, and she always took the oldest, sickliest ones. That wasn't because she was soft-hearted in any way; she knew that she was prone to being capricious about people and she didn't want anyone who was going to stick around too long. Their rent basically covered all of her living expenses.
posted by vignettist at 11:08 AM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

Thanks ernielundquist. By those definitions, a women caring for an older relative or in-law is not necessarily emotional labor or emotion work. But it is certainly always simple labor, usually unpaid. This is labor that gets foisted on women because of sexism and society demands of conforming to certain gender roles, even if none of the emotional baggage comes with it.

I think emotional labor is very interesting and important to discuss but I don't think it's useful to let the definition to grow so large as to include any kind of work that society/men often expect women to do.
posted by SaltySalticid at 11:09 AM on May 12, 2017 [8 favorites]

Frankly, the "living longer at the end of life with illness" that the article holds up as a great feature of modern times does not seem like a great feature to me.

Yeah, this. I've got great health insurance, and after witnessing the care my grandmother had to give my great-grandmother towards the end of her life, I am resolved, once my mental faculties start to slip, to take a long hiking trip with no provisions and see if I can spare my own daughter.
posted by corb at 12:04 PM on May 12, 2017 [1 favorite]

I understand the original coinages, but the spawning of The Huge EL Thread last year was based on the premise in the FPP article that "emotional labor" was now encompassing a wide swath of things women are NOT paid to do but expected to do out of the goodness of their hearts because our culture doesn't even label it as "work." So in metafilter parlance, at least, a lot of folks are probably using/hearing the "labor" term even if the original inventor used "emotional work" instead.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:04 PM on May 12, 2017 [3 favorites]

I understand that, and I have valiantly refrained from Actually-ing in that thread or other discussions. But if it gets to the point that people are being corrected for using it in the original sense, I think it's worth clarifying.

Because these things are really important concepts and the distinction of "emotional labor" is that it is a specific job requirement that is often gendered, and seriously undervalued when it is gendered toward women. (There's a lot of emotional labor that falls largely on men, but most of that involves a lot of confidence projecting and often, yelling at people. Think cops, drill sergeants, bill collectors, etc.)

By distinguishing 'emotional labor' as a job skill specifically, rather than a cultural or social expectation--e.g., something women "just know how to do"--it helps clarify that it isn't some nebulous character trait or natural inclination, which is much of the rationale behind undervaluing it in the workplace.

Which isn't to say that "emotion work" and cultural expectations are no big or that women aren't penalized for not doing them. They are an extreme big, but they are a different type, and the distinction is important. 'Emotional labor' is a specific set of job skills that many employers require, and are not compensating employees for sufficiently.
posted by ernielundquist at 12:29 PM on May 12, 2017 [6 favorites]

From ages 20-22, I was the primary caregiver for my maternal grandparents, both of whom had some form of dementia; I had to step away after my grandfather's illness turned him into a sexual predator. In those last few months I was pushing a heavy dresser to block my bedroom door every night, and it was especially upsetting because I was only living at home after I'd left college to escape a similarly abusive, stalker ex-boyfriend. I couldn't even talk about it, I just gave notice (not the best phrase; I wasn't paid for this work) of my plans to move in with a roommate, but I honestly believed once my mother and her siblings were fully confronted with how much care their parents needed, they would come to their senses and develop some plans.

Nope. The burden of their care fell squarely on my brother, instead. Our grandfather lived another two years, our grandmother another six. I was able to help out again with Gram in the last years of her life (her dementia had a slower progression, and she still recognized me). In my 30s, when our (divorced) parents had bouts with cancer and surgeries, I went back and did extended "guest cameos" (repeatedly derailing any career progression whatsoever) for months at a time. But the bulk of the day-to-day business of living is borne on my brother's shoulders -- he does the grocery shopping, takes Dad (who doesn't drive) to all appointments, does many of Mom's household chores (anything involving a ladder or lifting any 15 lb+ item) and regularly alternates watching "Jeopardy" episodes with them.

I feel wretchedly guilty about all of this. We're now in our forties, and I was finally able to talk to him about how lousy I still feel about the grandparent situation, and apologize, only last year. My brother is the best person, so of course he said if anything the family let me down, that it was a terrible time all around, and he's glad I got myself to a safe place. He's gracious and generous about the current state of affairs, too, has said it works out because I'm good in a crisis, good at dealing with medical gore and paperwork and whatnot.

But now our mother is showing some troubling signs (forgetfulness, mood swings, dwindling sympathy reserves, medication noncompliance -- I'm hoping the latter is responsible for all of the former) and Dad, a lung cancer survivor, had a scan last month which showed a troubling spot. I'm a shy, introverted person who never married (which sometimes pains me), never had children (which pains me frequently), with health woes of my own, and I purposefully live in a physician-assisted-suicide state some 3,500 miles from where I was born. My family of origin is ridiculously co-dependent in the best of times, and I'm usually only in their good graces when I am caregiving in some appropriately spinsterly fashion. My mother, her closest sister, and that sister's husband very much want me back "home," tending to them, running their errands, and cleaning their houses. My father wouldn't mind that, either. And both my parents have told me separately, on multiple occasions, it's soothing on a primal level just to sit in the same room with me... but that I'd have to have children of my own to really understand the feeling.

These are not bad people. They love me and miss me, but I don't know what I'm going to do for them when I'm nearly all used up already. My wonderful brother is five years my senior, and, in a shocking plot twist, is unmarried and childless, as well; a secret, small, terrified part of me wonders if he thinks we'll be even in the end if I look after him after our demanding parents and their generation pass on. I'm hoping he makes a good, later-in-life marriage, maybe with some stepkids and a passel of in-laws to dote on, and that he will forgive me when the time comes.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:01 PM on May 12, 2017 [16 favorites]

Good grief, that's a novella. For a TL:DR - please be aware that sexual acting out and assault is an aspect of some forms of dementia. Whenever possible, be on the same page with your siblings or other family members with respect to eldercare. ernielundquist, I'm so sorry for your loss, and I'd favorite your comment a hundred times if I could -- it's terrific your family recognized your sister's work and were able to agree to compensate her for it.
posted by Iris Gambol at 2:40 PM on May 12, 2017 [5 favorites]

This is a timely article for me because my grandfather has been in hospital the last couple of weeks. He'd been going downhill for a few months, becoming increasingly prone to delusion and erratic behavior. It's been heart-breaking for me because until recently he could hold it together for an hour at a time while I visited, and so I was unaware how bad it had gotten until he entered the hospital and my aunt (who lives with him and is his primary caretaker) started telling me the sort of stuff she's seen when I wasn't around.

I don't know what we're going to do now that he needs to be watched around the clock. It's a huge taboo in Chinese society to put your parents in a nursing home, and I have no doubt that my grandfather will consider that decision an abandonment and a betrayal. But it is a fantasy to take care of your demented yet physically healthy and possibly long-lived parents at home. It might be remotely possible in large, multi-generational households, but we don't have that in this country.

I'm sorry, this is only tangentially related to this discussion. It's just been on my mind waiting for the slightest excuse to spill out. What I should be doing is finishing the laundry so I can visit him before visiting hours end.
posted by d. z. wang at 10:51 AM on May 13, 2017 [2 favorites]

<>em>Thank you. I would say that the only way to cope with e.g. scrubbing the floor while your mother cries in the other room in humiliation over not being able to make it to the bathroom in time before falling down is by turning off your emotions altogether.

Yup. But i cried just now reading that and remembering a very similar moment with my mom.
posted by Cocodrillo at 3:07 PM on May 13, 2017 [1 favorite]

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