Often Forgotten: The Working Daughters

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When it comes to supporting working mothers, there’s a great amount of resources to help them make the transition, find a work-life balance, and even re-enter the workforce. But what about the staggering 44 million unpaid eldercare providers in the United States, a majority of whom are women? When they transition into family caregiving — often whilst balancing work, children and life — these women have almost no resources to help with advice, support or finances.

It’s a quickly growing issue — The Atlantic  pointing out that every day 10,000 people turn 65, and the AARP predicting by 2030 the United States will need an additional estimated 6 million people to care for the elderly. And most likely, family will be the ones to fill this role.

Cost of Care Not Always a Factor

Family caregivers aren’t necessarily taking on the caregiver role because they can’t afford outside help, although this can be part of the problem. Often, elderly parents refuse outside care, forcing family members — mainly daughters — to step up and help out.

So while a daughter might have the means to hire outside help, a sick parent’s wellbeing often forces her into caregiving, and thus, to cut back on her own career. And what we’re seeing today is that women who could afford outside care before becoming caregivers, find themselves struggling to get by as caregivers.

By taking on the load of daily chores, but also the mental and physical wellbeing of their parent, daughters cut back at work and it shows in their paychecks.

Can Society Later Support Women Who Drop Out Now?

Anne Tumlinson, a health care policy analyst, shared some insight on the plight of working daughters as opposed to working mothers to The Atlantic. “As a society we are organized reasonably well to support parents. If you have enough money you can get high-quality day care. There are schools that educate your child for a better part of the day. But even if you have the money to pay for a caregiver, even when they are the Mary Poppins for the elderly, it doesn’t mean your parents want them. Eldercare requires a high amount of emotional engagement that only a family member can provide. It’s not a situation where economically advantaged women are spared. I know lots of very accomplished women with lots of degrees who have dropped out.”

This poses a major issue not only for working daughters and their families, but the country as a whole. As Liz O’Donnell points out in her Atlantic piece, how will the economy hold up with an increasing number of women dropping out of their mid, and senior-level positions? And if these women lose out on earning potential, or can’t get back into the workforce at all, can our social security system support them adequately?

Support Lacking for Working Daughters

Amidst the bigger picture, looking at the individuals who are transitioning and even struggling as caregivers shows how little resources they have for support. Shelley Boyle, who spoke to the Atlantic about her situation after her mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, explains how her life now feels limited: “Here I was forging a career and building a life and now I have to spend 20 to 30 hours on top of my full time job to take care of her….The biggest issue is I am now living hand-to-mouth. I am just getting by and I am not able to put money away for a rainy day.”

There are endless blogs, websites and support systems for working mothers to discuss the trials and tribulations of their transition. But when it comes to working daughters, not so much. And as Tumlinson explains to The Atlantic, that can be extremely difficult during this life changing time. “Caring for an aging parent is a much more significant life passage than we give it credit for being. When you are caring for a child, it doesn’t threaten your identity. Because that’s what parents do. But when you are a daughter, you are cared for. You turn to your parents for refuge. When they seek refuge from you it shakes your identity.”

The United States hasn’t made life for working mothers perfect. There’s still unpaid maternity leave and the wage gap. But the fact that we talk about these issues in the open is helping propel change and provide support for women going through it. So, do you agree that working daughters need to see the same kind of discussion around their needs? Let us know in the comments below, and please share this article with your friends who might also be going through the same struggles.

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