In Jonathan Rauch’s Atlantic Monthly piece about caring for his father, he discovers a new invisible “problem with no name” (ala Betty Friedan, 1964). This one involves masses of middle-aged adults quietly caring for their loved ones. Although he doesn’t mention this, ironically, it was women’s access to paid work (with Friedan leading the charge) that led us to part of our current predicament — nobody home to care for the elders. The double-edged sword of social change: women now work for pay and take on care responsibilities. And so do men.
Rauch is a guy who is taking care of his dad. His piece highlights what feminists have been saying and feeling for years. That in a society without the cultural infrastructure for discussing aging and disability, caretakers and their options remain largely invisible. I’ll add this: the cared-for are also unseen.
Rauch’s piece raises important questions about how long one can continue to stay at home in the context of debilitating disease. His father, like most, holds tight to his independence (“His autonomy was the thread by which his emotional health hung”), but after consultation with his son he eventually agrees that it might be best for everyone if he moved into an assisted living apartment.
A series of recent NY Times articles have dealt with care/housing options in the context of a parent’s declining health. So often these stories are framed in the context of health care issues, with emphasis on finding a care solution. However, as Rouch found, communication with a loved-one about health, housing, and perhaps most importantly, what brings them comfort, cannot be overstressed. Too many times well-meaning family members show up and try to fix the situation, and inadvertently rob an aging parent of the thing they hold most dear; their sense of autonomy.