Caring for one’s aging parents is still largely a women’s issue. Does that sound like a sexist and antiquated notion to you? Well, it may seem like a throwback to a time when women were primarily homemakers and caretakers, but the fact is that even though women now make up at least half of the workforce, an estimated 66% of elderly parent caregivers are female.
Does that surprise you? Maybe not. After all, it’s not uncommon to hear how many women—mostly in their 40s, 50s, and sometimes, 60s—are part of “the sandwich generation,” caught between caring for their growing children and aging parents. Balancing these tremendous personal duties (often, while working) has turned this sandwich into a triple decker! And now, with rising national unemployment because of the COVID pandemic, we are seeing an increasing number of these three generations living under one roof. And guess who’s still the meat in the sandwich? The dutiful daughter. (And, yes, many men are dutiful sons—just not as many.)
What is a dutiful daughter?
As a child, you probably had your parents to take care of you, worry about you, and keep you safe. Now that you’re older—and so are your mom and dad—the tables are turning, and now you may feel a sense of duty to care for them.
One of the most difficult aspects of growing older is to evolve your “adult-child” relationship into an “adult-adult” relationship with your parents. And that can be even more challenging when your aging parent is no longer self-sufficient. Most us are ill-prepared to handle the situations that arise.
Women, especially, often struggle with feelings of guilt, frustration, hopelessness, and isolation when facing the demands of caring for an elderly parent. Some who have close relationships with their parents even experience a sense of loss when they witness their parents’ physical, mental, and emotional decline. Others who have had strained or difficult relationships may feel resentful for being “forced” into giving more than they ever felt they received.
Which kind of dutiful daughter are you?
There generally are four types of dutiful daughters or dutiful children.
- The daughter who can set limits and boundaries. This daughter can also be referred to as “the professional daughter.” This daughter knows how to get things done efficiently, effectively, and with great attention to detail. They are often the daughters/children who have some financial means and are willing to pay for caregiving assistance (eg, home care services, geriatric care managers, shoppers, Uber accounts, etc.) When there is no money, they enlist other family members or find affordable or free programs to help.
- The daughter who just can’t say no. This group often accepts excessive and unrealistic demands from their parents, making personal sacrifices to the detriment of their own lives and relationships. These dutiful daughters are exhausted emotionally and physically, and often wind up ill themselves or struggling with depression. She can also be known as a “martyr”—often complaining about the responsibility yet rejecting offers of help, leaving her alone to shoulder the burden. Her motives are often derived from guilt or anger for never being good enough or not the family favorite.
- The daughter who has a reservoir of love, affection, and genuine liking of her parents. They can talk about important issues and find common ground to create solutions that provide dignity and respect for each. This adult child accepts the changes that are occurring in their parent and, at the same time, is in touch with their own feelings and needs.
- The daughter who did not like or love the parent. To her, caregiving is a chore or obligation. This kind of daughter often “gets the job done” but anger and resentment build.
So, which kind of dutiful daughter are you? Do you wish to be another? If so, it’s important to realize you have choice. Just remember to be true to yourself and ignore the opinions, expectations, and old rules that others may put upon you. Your relationship with your parents—good, bad, or complicated—is unique to your family and there is no one right or wrong way to act. You do you!