"Are you awake?"
It was a text from my mother, and I was awake. Unfortunately, I hadn't been when she'd sent it a couple hours earlier. I saw she had also tried to call me, so I called her back. My father answered her phone because she was driving him home from the hospital.
"I'm fine, but I went to the ER this morning," he said. His blood pressure had been high enough to be of stroke-level concern, so they played it safe and went to the hospital. They examined him and gave him a new medication to keep it under better control.
"Your mother and I want to ask you something, but she's afraid to because she thinks you think she already smothers you," he said, somewhat lightheartedly. My mother does like to know where I am AT ALL TIMES. "When I'm gone, would you be OK with your mother moving back up to New Jersey or New York so you have each other close by?"
"Would I be OK with it? What? Of course," I said. "You don't have to ask my permission for that kind of thing."
My mother and father have lived in South Florida for 20 years, but they were born and raised in Queens and Brooklyn, respectively, and they raised me in New Jersey until I was 15. I would love if my they'd both move back up here, but it's apparently out of the question for my father, who reached his snow quota in 1994.
It's always been understood that, barring an accident of some sort, my father would probably die long before my mother. Not only is he 10 years older than she is, he's also had a number of serious health scares over the past three decades. He had a heart attack a week before my 12th birthday, got a pacemaker shortly after that, has had coronary stents inserted, and survived stage IV throat cancer. (He was also recently diagnosed with golfer's elbow, but that's probably not going to kill him.) I think it would give my father peace of mind that, whether my mother is living independently in her own home or in an elder-care facility when she's older, I'm nearby to spend time with her.
What gives me some peace of mind is that my parents have planned ahead and have long-term-care insurance. This means that if my parents were to go into a nursing home or need a visiting caretaker, the financial burden wouldn't fall on my sister and me. There is, of course, an emotional element to caring for an elderly parent, but I've never doubted that I'd be an attentive daughter.
It never occurred to me, however, that I'd be attentive because I'm a daughter -- as opposed to a son.
The American Sociology Association reports, "Parents are better off having daughters if they want to be cared for in their old age suggests a new study, which finds that women appear to provide as much elderly parent care as they can, while men contribute as little as possible." Although, strangely, the ASA phrased that in a way that makes it seem like it's up to parents to decide to have daughters or else, they're shining a light on a huge bummer of a disparity.
The study is by Princeton sociology doctoral candidate Angelina Grigoryeva, who found that "daughters spend twice as much time, or almost seven more hours each month, providing care to elderly parents than sons." Apparently, and depressingly, sons can barely be bothered to give their elderly parents time and attention when they need it most. Furthermore, the study found that sons with sisters are even more remiss.
“Sons reduce their relative caregiving efforts when they have a sister, while daughters increase theirs when they have a brother. This suggests that sons pass on parent caregiving responsibilities to their sisters,” Grigoryeva, who looked at data on more than 26,000 senior citizens in the U.S., reports. Interestingly, I saw this happen when my mother became the power of attorney for her step-father, for whom she was much more present at the end of his life than his own son.
Providing care for an elderly parent has been shown to have negative physical and mental health effects, sometimes due, at least partially, to the financial and career sacrifices that may come with it. Men, it seems, are inclined to avoid these sacrifices and consequent personal detriment, whereas women feel it's simply something they must do, self be damned.
I'm very thankful that my parents have prepared for their later years by ensuring my sister and I won't have to make financial sacrifices to keep them comfortable; however, before I knew of their insurance, I assumed it was something I would just do because it's what you just do -- parents care for you in the beginning, and you care for them in the end. It's sad to think that men don't feel this obligation as strongly, and especially when there's a sister to absorb the burden.
Regardless of the fact that I won't need to provide financial support to my parents in their final years, I'm committed to providing all of the emotional support possible. I hope this would be true of anyone who has a positive relationship with their parents, regardless of gender.