How Gender Differences Can Impact Caring For Aging Parents

When your elderly parents reach the point they regularly need caregiving tasks, it can put some pressure on you and your siblings to help out. 

Men and women take different approaches to responding to that pressure. If your family members abide by traditional gender roles, for example, you might see women step in as informal caregivers at home while men take less hands-on responsibilities. 

Oftentimes, siblings feel compelled to fulfill caregiving roles they aren’t happy with because they feel no one else would do it. This can lead to a lot of frustration when other siblings aren’t holding up their end of the bargain, and it can lead to a division among family members. 

Set the tone early by defining caregiving responsibilities early and often. By using open communication between you, your siblings, and your aging parent, you set up an environment where everyone is comfortable. And if you keep these gender differences in mind during those discussions, you’ll be even more successful. 

Differences in Family Caregiving Based on Gender

In America, according to the Caregiving in the U.S. 2020 report presented by the National Alliance for Caregiving (NAC) and the AARP Public Policy Institute, 39% of family caregivers are men and 61% are women. 

Although many believe society is slowly becoming more balanced in gender expectations and responsibilities, those numbers are slightly more lopsided than the 2015 report showed. 

So overall, women’s responsibilities in elder caregiving are actually growing even more disproportionate. 

Why are these trends continuing this direction? What can we do to reverse the course? 

Answering these questions requires understanding the gender gaps in how men and women think about caring for their older adults.

Caregiving imbalances exist among countless family members in the United States, leading to inefficiencies and infighting within sibling networks. By wrapping your head around the differences, you can start to work toward a solution that leaves every happy and your parent cared for. 

Here are a few ways gender differences manifest when adult children need to engage in elder care for an aging parent

Committing to Caregiving Duties

First and foremost, one of the most common disparities between genders when discussing caregiving responsibilities of elderly parents is how likely adult children are to commit to caring. 

Women are far more likely to jump into hands-on parent care. That includes most activities of daily living such as bathing and transferring. 

On the other hand, men are less inclined to get their hands dirty and are overall more comfortable with hiring additional help. 

However, men are also more likely to provide social support with their elderly parents as a form of care. They often report picking up their medication and taking them shopping, while women are more often burdened with additional chores like cleaning, laundry, and cooking. 

The disparity here leads to a dichotomy in the caregiving experience for each gender. 

Coping With the Stresses of Caregiving

Women and men cope differently with this type of family responsibility. 

Women feel greater sadness and anxiety about caring for a failing older relative, and they are more likely to seek emotional support (by attending a caregiver support group, for example). 

Alternatively, men go into “Logical Problem-Solver” mode, avoiding their emotions and spurning support groups.

Perception of Caregiving Activities

Women and men often receive varying responses for assuming the same caregiving role. 

When female caregivers help a care recipient, whether her parent or in-law, she’s typically viewed as “just doing her duty.” 

Men, meanwhile, tend to be lauded for engaging in some health care and personal care activities. 

Boosting Awareness of Gender Roles in Your Family

Knowing the difference between how genders view and conduct caregiving for aging parents is the first step toward creating a more fair family dynamic. If sisters or brothers feel they’re receiving unfair treatment based on gender, addressing those concerns and hashing out new expectations is crucial.

These tactics will help you address the differences in your family’s caregiving habits in a constructive and positive way. When carried out correctly, they may give daughters a chance to ask their brothers to contribute more time, money, or support. That, or they might have an opening where they can provide brothers with an expanded say in their elderly parent care. 

Avoid Appeasing Your Parent’s Gender Preferences

Oftentimes, our older parents have a fixed set of beliefs. They might think that the sons should take them to medical appointments while an adult daughter stays home and maintains the house. 

If that arrangement doesn’t work well for you and your siblings, you need to address it. While these aren’t always the most comfortable conversations to have with your parent, it is essential to ensure everyone’s time, preferences, and talents are respected. 

Keep in mind you don’t always need parents’ approval for some of these arrangements. But above all, your new roles and responsibilities must continue to meet their needs. 

Use Teamwork to Solve Complex Problems

When you bicker and argue among your siblings, it only stands to hurt your parent’s well-being. No matter how justified your contention might be with one another, it is always more productive to find a common ground that you can work together on. 

When a parent suffers from dementia or Alzheimer’s Disease, for instance, it can be very frustrating. However, by coming together and realizing you both want what is best for your parent, you can accommodate a helpful informal care plan that keeps their quality of life boosted for years to come.