Managing the Emotional Load of Being the Family's Chosen Carer

Despite being a trailblazer in her generation, her octogenarian mother's long-held opinions are hard to change, discovers Amalie. Expert care advisors, Chosen with Care advise her on how to manage the situation.

Amalie explains: Apparently "It's a girl's job." I've got brothers, but they, it seems, aren't up to the job. Or perhaps not up for it would be more accurate. They protest that it needs to be her daughters helping with home care and emotional support. Not her sons. Just her daughters.

As a full-time working mum, I'm used to battling inequality on several fronts. For many of us in professional jobs, there are still regular struggles for equality. I think we're all aware that discriminatory preconceptions are still kicking about - perhaps not as blatantly as before - but they are still there, lurking under the surface both in the workplace and at home when juggling-owning-sharing the mental load and balancing jobs with family.

Challenging Preconceptions

But this scenario is one I'd not come across before or expected: challenging the older generation's stereotypes of how they should be cared for, and - and more specifically – who by.

I find it hard to respond to my mother's expectations without dismissing her opinions. She is, after all, nearly 80 and has challenged many a stereotype in her lifetime. This is, however, where she is at now.

When she needs physical or emotional care and when planning for her personal welfare with a Lasting Power of Attorney, she wants her daughters to do it. Full stop. Not her sons. Just the girls, because, as she puts it: "That's your job."

The Emotional Load

We are expected to bear the full emotional load, while her sons - admittedly - are expected to look after the finances as that's "a boy's job". But when it comes to emotional and physical support, they seemingly aren't required. Our 'girls' job' means:

  • We always get the early morning and late-night tearful phone calls.
  • We always get the emergency calls for help when a crisis arises.
  • We get the expectation to pop over, just for a chat.
  • And we always get the blame - and guilt - for not providing enough emotional support at the moment it's needed.

The resentment associated with this is becoming really hard to manage. My sister and I feel we are constantly failing the increasing demands for emotional support and calls for last minute visits. Just like my brothers, we both work full time too and both have children, so it's tricky to always be there at the moment of need. I don't see why my brothers shouldn't also have to shoulder some of this load. They have emotions too, after all.

Although we care for our mum, we are getting really frustrated with her prejudices and don't know where to turn.

Expert Advice

Care advice experts, Chosen with Care offer the following advice for dealing with this common scenario:

  1. Understand there are two areas of communication: with your mum and with your siblings. Let’s address those in turn.
  2. With your mother, you’re the best judge of this but essentially you have two choices: one is to attempt a really careful, loving and respectful conversation about how you see roles being less gendered these days and how you’re juggling other responsibilities; and the other option is to accept that she won’t change. Some would say it is most respectful to offer her the chance to change her views and others would argue that, hard though it is, it’s important to try and accept she won’t change. Either way she’s in a very vulnerable situation, as people are when they get older and their mental and physical health deteriorates. To try and change decades-long held views at this stage might be nigh on impossible.
  3. If you do want to try the conversation (and it might take more than one go), make sure to stick to describing your own needs and suggestions (e.g. “I’m finding it so hard to balance working with all our family needs, and I’m thinking of asking our brothers to be more available. I really want to support you and at the same time, with the cost of living these days, both adults in a couple need to work, as I do, and it’s hard to live up to the standards that used to apply when women stayed at home. We couldn’t afford the pay cut that would come with me working part-time, so I’m trying to think of how we can best support you between us”). Avoid using blaming or accusing language (e.g. “You always call me”, “your expectations are unreasonable”, “your views are outdated”). Using lots of ‘you’ statements can feel accusative and bring a defensive response. Using ‘I’ statements clarifies your needs and feelings and suggests a way forward, without criticising.
  4. Whether or not you are able to have a conversation with your mother, the next step is to communicate with your brothers and sister.
  5. It's worth understanding that it’s quite common for elderly parents to call on one family member more than others - whether it's because of gender, location, or availability (often a stay-at-home parent or freelance worker will get more calls). Everyone needs to be aware of the pressures being put on everyone else. It's important to try to get the whole family involved, even though it can be difficult to get buy in from some! Again, owning your own needs, feelings and availability is key here, rather than appearing to cast blame. Offering suggestions helps too.
  6. The question for you all to consider is “How will we manage the situation as it progresses, so the responsibility doesn't rest on one or two people – whether ‘girls’ or not - as it's hard for a small number of people to manage this over a long period of time.
  7. Try and arrive at a family plan of action. Can you suggest certain things your brothers can pick up? Maybe come to the conversation with a list of current requirements and who does what. Can you select one or two and directly ask each brother to pick those up. This way, it might feel more concrete and do-able rather than unmanageable. Do your brothers have partners, and do they work? You might be able to have a conversation about how you are all working full-time so it would be good to pull together since gender divisions of household work no longer really apply. Talk to your brothers and sister before things get to crisis point and the situation becomes an emotive or divisive issue.
  8. The onus is on other family members to step up for certain jobs - proactively calling, visiting, and helping with some tasks. However, you can influence the outcome by the way you open up the conversation.
  9. Finally, also explore getting external support in place - carers from the local authority, church, local community, or other networks - so that the daughters (or other family carers) aren't the only ones providing support.