Saturday, June 23, 2012

Family Sandwich

We've been having some great conversations on the blog lately about some of the challenges in raising young children while pursuing a career in astronomy.  This time I want to talk about the reverse problem: taking care of aging parents.
I'm not having to deal with it yet, but the specter is looming.  My father is pretty ill, and wheelchair-bound.  My mother has been taking care of him, but it's a big job.  Fortunately, she's a registered nurse, so she's fully qualified for it.  However, we've been having some tough conversations about how sustainable their situation is.  Taking care of my father is only going to get harder, both physically and emotionally.  My mother isn't getting any younger.  And my father is deteriorating mentally as well as physically, so it's harder and harder to keep him happy.
It is likely that I will eventually become my mother's caregiver one day.  It's possible that I might become a member of the "sandwich generation," taking care of two generations of family members at once: my children and my parents.  It raises the juggling of career and family to a whole new level of difficulty.
Elder care is full of pitfalls, too.  There's a whole range from in-home care to retirement communities to assisted living facilities.  If you think you're subject to judgmental opinions if you put your kids in day care, try talking about nursing homes.  And it's not like you're simply caring for a large child.  You're taking care of someone who is losing their independence and not necessarily taking it well.
Just as with child care, women seem to shoulder the burden of elder care more often than men.  Again, this dates back to times when in women didn't work outside the home.  
It's important to remember that "family-friendly" should be interpreted pretty broadly.  It's not just about kids and not just about their female caregivers.  It's about all of us and our commitments to the loved ones in our lives.