At 25, 23 and 18 respectively, my younger brother, younger sister and I have taken on a situation most people don’t deal with until much later in life. Our mom was almost killed in a car accident, was on life support and is now in a situation where she needs 24 hour a day support.
It’s been terrible and traumatic and our hearts break every day. But thank God my siblings are wonderful, supportive people and we’re weathering this together. When my brother wanted to go see the wrecked car and get my mom’s stuff out of it, the three of us did it together, the thought being no one person should have to bear the weight of that task alone.
When my mom, who couldn’t drink water until yesterday, needed her mouth swabbed or the gunk scraped off her teeth, we all did it. We all wanted to. She’s our mom and, in fact, it is an honor to scrape the gunk off her teeth.
Apparently this is not the norm. According to this ridiculous blog post on the New York Times’ ageing blog, most sisters wind up fulfilling traditional “female” roles when their mothers are ailing, while brothers skate by performing “male” roles and getting all the credit.
According to the author, Jane Gross:
“..this arduous interval is a dumb time for a feminist hissy fit. Far wiser to bow to the stereotypes and delegate every male-suitable task you can think of to your brother(s).”
Because bitching about it to the Internet instead of having, you know, a face to face conversation, is so much more productive?
First of all, I hardly think asking a sibling to help with a task, qualifies as throwing a “hissy fit.” Second, in our situation, I guess you could say I’ve taken on the “male” role: I arranged Mom’s finances, hired her lawyers, make insurance decisions and so on. I also comb her hair and swab her mouth when I can, which isn’t often since I live 1,300 miles away.
When my mom gets out of the hospital and can’t use the bathroom herself, both my brother and sister will be there and they will both want to. Maybe the problem is the idea of giving “credit” to anyone for doing what you should do — and want to do — for someone you love.
In my family, there hasn’t been a discussion about who should get credit for what. It’s more like, what needs to get done and who is available to do it now? The idea of assigning gender roles in a time of crisis is ridiculous.
There’s another blog, Dutiful Daughters (Sainted Sons,) that the NYT writer pulls her idea from. The blogs author, Marsha Foley is quoted:
“The experience is bad enough in its own right without all that resentment,” she said. “You really must give up expecting people to feel and behave as you do. Expectations are what create stress.
Ms. Foley added that “part of why women get so mad” at their brothers “is because they’re not suffering enough.”
I certianly agree that expecting anything from anyone during a time of stress is a bad idea. So why are the authors of these blogs encouraging women to expect their brothers not to help? Even worse, why are they advocating bottling up your frustration so that it can turn into seething resentment?
(Oh and BTW, “not suffering enough?” Gross! How do you decide if someone is suffering enough? By how much they cry? By how much they sacrifice? Wake up call for Gross and Foley: there’s no premium on suffering — you can’t quantify it.)
There’s no “right” way to cope with a family tragedy, but it seems to me that open, honest communication about reasonable expectations makes a lot more sense than saying, “Oh, I’ll wipe butts and change bed pans because I’m a woman, and Josh will find a lawyer because he’s a man.”