Here's a cheery reminder from a Globe and Mail story -- Canada's national daily -- that women are screwed financially in old age if they devote their midlife time and resources, as many now do, to caregiving.
I've spent much of my workdays, (which is my only source of income as a freelancer), on the phone and email so far this week dealing with social workers, nurses and lawyers to discuss what happens next to my mother (divorced, few friends) who lives a six-hour flight away in Canada and who is now in the hospital.
It remains to be determined whether she will be able to return to living alone in her home.
As her only child, I can't turn to anyone but my partner for help. We're lucky she gets as much free government-supplied help and health care as she already does.
Another friend my age, a woman who is also a writer, devotes many hours every week cooking and caring for her in-laws. Her two sons, looking for work, are back at home.
We're both very fortunate in having husbands and partners who earn a decent wage and, while our labor is necessary to the family income, it is not the primary or exclusive one.
(This lowered family income does not come without conflict. I could certainly earn more and spend less if I ignored my mother's complicated needs.)
Every hour and dollar spent, lovingly or not, devoted to the care and needs of others is wage-earning (or re-charging) time lost to oneself or one's other current and future financial needs.
The less money women earn (and we out-live men, statistically which means we need to earn, save and invest even more than men while typically working fewer years and earning less), the poorer our old age will be.
Caregiving often means financial disaster for the person giving it. To whom does your duty lie?
What if your parent(s) were neglectful or abusive? Made lousy choices financially and with their health, and now, as a result of those choices, need (your) help to survive?
Too many of us are struggling in a terrible economy, with little or no leeway for our own needs, now and in the future.
What's the answer?
Turn your back on your aging parents and/or your needy adult children?
Just say no?