It’s well worth reading, but his central point is that caring for his aging father pushed Rauch to the breaking point… of actually talking about what he was going through. This led him to “discover” that millions of middle-aged people struggle with this huge issue, suffering much of the time in silence.
Rauch likens this social problem to that of “housewives” in the 60’s who’s problem of endemic loneliness and boredom were dubbed “the problem that has no name,” by Betty Friedan in The Feminine Mystique back in 1963.
While this problem may have no name, for me it has an image: after my father’s last disastrous visit, one punctuated by falls, scares and the realization of serious deterioration in his ability to care for himself, I got back from taking he and my mom to the airport to hear that Agnes, our boxer-bulldog, had come trotting out of the bathroom with a full Depends in her teeth. As I worked to clean the leavings of my father from the floor and the wastebasket, I felt that this problem with no name did at least have a fairly vivid visual.
Rauch questions why we, as a society, are so completely unprepared for the inevitable regarding our parents, and ultimately ourselves—and he answers with the usual suspects—a culture that “enables” denial, procrastination and silence.
I must say that Rauch said a couple of things that I sense many a mother would consider over-stated: “In the years after Betty Friedan named their problem, women who work in the home (formerly “housewives”) demanded and got a new infrastructure for support: opportunities to study and work at home, part-time job opportunities, public and private help with child care, social networks, and so on. Perhaps more important, they demanded and got society’s recognition that they were providing an indispensable public good. As a result, they are not isolated or silent anymore, and they do not need to put up with being lonely or bored.”
While I whole-heartedly agree with Rauch’s cry to bring the issue of elder care into full public view, I don’t think we’ve truly come to respect and support parents, particularly single mothers and fathers at nearly the level he imagines. I am further skeptical that denial (about elder-care or parenting) will fall before the winds of journalism. However, I’m glad to see that he is speaking up, and this encourages more of us to speak up—and to speak with each other—not just about aging parents, but about whatever troubles us. We tend to mask our hurts, struggles and needs, and this perpetuates shame and isolation.
Be it as parents, or as caregivers to our parents, my simple accord with Jonathan Rauch is that we’re all in this together and that we all need each other—for concrete help, but also for fellowship and community in the trenches.
In case you don’t read his article, but need help caring for aging parents, he cites the Family Caregiver Alliance (www.caregiver.org) and The National Alliance for Caregiving (www.caregiving.org) and strengthforcaring.com. Whether for a parent, spouse or friend, if you need help organizing care a great resource is to be found in lotsahelpinghands.
So, let’s dedicate today to awareness of each other in all our collective struggles—in honor of all our collective “children” (who sometimes turn out to be our parents).