Monday, October 1, 2012


Choose a Favorite Child, for Your Health

In 2001, researchers at Purdue University found that 75 percent of 566 surveyed mothers between the ages of 65 and 75 named a particular child they would want to take care of them as they aged. Seven years later, the researchers checked back in. About half of the mothers, 234 of them, had fallen sick or become injured: Some were being tended to by their golden child, others by a different child, and others not at all. The Purdue team... saw increased anxiety and sadness in mothers who didn’t get the caretaker they wanted. These moms were more unhappy than the ones receiving no help at all. (On the other hand, mothers who secured the ministrations of their favorite kids broke even, psychologically: Apparently, having the “preferred” child care for you doesn’t make you happy; it just keeps depression at bay.)

A pretty good argument for having more than one kid, or just one kid, or no kids, depending on how you read it.

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I don't doubt that my parents had their favorite - it was me, obviously. But, I have a strong feeling that if you asked my two siblings who was the favorite, they would both have good reasons for why THEY were the favorite, too.

There's a moral in here somewhere...


@Gussie Fink-Nottle My sister and I were big emotional blackmailers as kids (it's not fair, you love her more, etc.), and our mom always told us that as long as both of us didn't agree who the favorite was, she was doing ok.


@Gussie Fink-Nottle Really? You're still the favorite, Spink-Bottle? Even after that dust-up caused by your dreadful speech at the Market Snodsbury Grammar School? I suppose that was an aberration, though - you were usually the quiet one, looking after your newts and minding your studies. You're like to stay the favorite, too, as long as you keep away from that bounder Bertie Wooster!


This made me think of you. :)@v


I constantly worry about being prepared to take care of my parents financially and physically one day. It's not easy being the favourite child!


@likethestore Or the Only Child!!! I read this as a warning to not reproduce at all, thank you, Edith.


Orrrrrrr you could hire a third party to do the caretaking! Then your mom can hate a stranger! (Just kidding, everyone I took care of during my two years as a personal care assistant was lovely and I miss them all very much. Sometimes it's too hard to see your mom or dad like that--I think that's okay. Just don't ignore them completely in an effort to ignore your own mortality, okay?)

baked bean

@frigwiggin My mother had the ignoring problem with her father. She didn't completely ignore him, but was there with him a lot less than her brother and sister. I think it was too hard for her to see him like that. And it caused a lot of family drama.
I just hate the fights between kids about sharing the load and who does what taking care of them. So sad.

Jane Marie

i was always like "not it!" and my brother was like "i'll take care of mom!" so hopefully he's her favorite? and my dad married someone super young, so for now we get to imagine she'll be on duty. hm.

sceps yarx

@Jane Marie I'm "not it", too! My little sister is the dutiful daughter...she's already taken care of my dad through two surgeries/illnesses. Phew! She's totally his favorite, too. I think it's because they're both creepy introverted home-bodies with heavy caffeine addictions.

Sea Ermine

This makes me really grateful that my parents have said they aren't expecting me (or my sister) to take care of them in their old age.
I know a lot of people just assume their kids will have them or even use that as an argument for not having kids and while I realize sometimes people don't have anyone else to look after them (and that having another choice is a privileged position to be in) I think if you have any other options then it's such a bad idea to put yourself in the hands of someone you don't even know (by deciding this before the kids are born) or to foist this on someone who hasn't chosen it or might not be capable of it. Not everyone is cut out to be a caretaker and sometimes your kids aren't capable of it. And sometimes your kids die before you or end up being dependent on your care for all of their lives.


@Sea Ermine This is such a good point and why I loathe this justification for having kids. What if your child has a disability that prevents her from caring for you? What if your kid dies? What if she comes of age in a rotten economy and can't afford to care for you? What if she decides she hates you and never wants to speak to you again? These are all very real possibilities.


@Sea Ermine My parents have explicitly said to me (I do not know if they have said the same to my brother, but he is the younger by four years and has not spent an unhealthy amount of his life being Unofficial Confidant and Conflict Resolution Manager) that if they ever get to be stubborn asses like my Dad's parents currently are, to force them into managed care anyway so they will actually get the care they need.
(My grandmother is currently insisting that she is perfectly capable of caring for herself and my grandfather, and she will go to "a home" "over her dead body", to which my father and his siblings are this close to throwing up their hands and saying "you're right, Ma, that is *exactly what is going to happen*", because even if my grandmother was still healthy and didn't have COPD and joint issues and vascular dementia, she is a full foot shorter than my grandfather and literally cannot lift him back up when he has fallen (this situation has happened - he had to lie on the floor until the paramedics came), and anyway, she *does* have all of these things, has most certainly forgotten her and my grandfather's meds more than once (though she insists she hasn't), and my grandfather has progressing Alzheimer's and has been in and out of the hospital repeatedly for pneumonia (not at all helped by the fact that he smoked for decades), and Grandma has started landing in the hospital herself. None of my Dad's siblings can care for them the way they need (none of them have the space, time, or ability), and the rest of us live on the opposite side of the country. An assisted living facility is pretty much the only option (they can't get enough coverage for in-home care), but they refuse, straight up. GRRAAAAAGGHHH I would really like my grandparents to still be around when I get married (not even engaged yet, but living with the man I will probably marry - we're both so far in agreement about that being in the cards in the next few years provided nothing drastically changes), especially as pretty much everybody on my mother's side is dead and so they're the only members of their generation I have left.)

H.E. Ladypants

@Sea Ermine My mother has made it very clear that she wants to go into a nice facility when it is time, rather than being taken care of by my sister or I. She took care of my grandmother and I think the emotional strain that caused everyone is something that really stuck with her.

On the other hand, she also put my name on her bank accounts so that when things do get to that point, I can handle her finances. It's a weird way of her still saying, "I want you to take care of me," I guess. Although, maybe she's just wise enough to know that taking care of someone doesn't necessarily mean doing everything yourself, it's just seeing that it's done.


@squishycat Yep, my parents are currently dealing with some Serious Shit re: their own parents (in particular, an upsetting and swift descent into hereditary dimentia by my mom's parents in which nobody wanted to be the one to tell them they cannot handle living alone anymore) and have declared that they will be moving into one of those nice independent living facilities when my mom turns 80. The good thing about those is that it's a totally pleasant living situation with plenty of freedom, but there's still a professional there to intervene when you need it.

I mean, we'll see if it actually happens when the time comes, but for now it seems like a pretty spectacular solution.

Sea Ermine

@Sea Ermine Also, what if your kids spend all their money taking care of you but your kids don't have kids of their own and now can't afford to take care of themselves?


@OhMarie I'm so sorry. ::hugs:: Dealing with dementia is so hard. The progressive care facilities I've seen do seem to be a pretty great solution, where you can live independently but step up to more constant care if you need it.

maybe partying will help

I don't think my mother has a favorite. My sister and I are both black sheep. Actually I am concerned that should she ever need care, it would be difficult to arrange; we're all pretty far-flung (my stepfather's decision to move her away from her family doesn't help). Thankfully she is still pretty young and quite healthy. But urk. :/


I'm one of five children. I'm confident that I'm (usually) not the least favorite, so I'm happy.

Tuna Surprise

My mom has already designated my little sister as her favorite child/preferred caregiver and my dad has dibs on my older sister. Being the middle child finally pays off!


@Tuna Surprise I am forwarding this to my older and younger siblings, as well as my parents, haha.


I won't admit to a favorite triplet but I definitely know which one loves me the most & which one loves Mr. Iceberg the most. Hsving said that I'd rather go to an old folk's home than foist myself on them, if we can afford it!


@iceberg I am imagining the third triplet sitting in a corner, mischievously twiddling his/her thumbs, going, "Ahahahahaha! I have thwarted them all! First the household, next: the Universe!"


@Gussie Fink-Nottle Her favorite parent is the TV. ;)


My siblings and I have already figured out who is going to care for our parents. It's not the kid I'm sure my mom would choose, but she's not really going to get a say in it, so sucks to be her!


Being the black sheep has its privileges. My oldest brother, by universal agreement, gets the care of Mom in her old age. I would take care of Dad in a heartbeat, but Mom is younger and in better health than he is so it's unlikely that I will be called on. Neither she nor I wants me taking care of her.


Wait, the parents didn't necessarily name their favorite child as the one to take care of them. They chose a child, but that could be more based on whether they think that child will be best suited to care for them (financially or emotionally or responsibility-wise).


@SarahP FOR INSTANCE, I don't think my parents have favorites, per se, but I think my mom likes hanging out with my brother more than with me. BUT I am consistently more responsible, reliable, and financially stable than my brother. So I think if asked who she wanted to care for her in her old age, my mother would choose me, not because I'm her favorite, but because she knows I'd be better equipped to do so. If she chose me and I ended up not caring for her, she'd have more anxiety/sadness because her other potential caretakers would be stressed/irresponsible/have less money than the life she'd chose for herself. And I think we'd all be a little anxious/sad if we ended upwith less money and more stress than we chose.


@SarahP Exactly. My mother and I are perhaps better friends than my mother and my brother, but I wouldn't say I'm her favorite! And I know that between my brother and I, my parents would much rather I take care of them...because my brother, despite being past his mid-20s, still doesn't know how to do laundry, lives on pasta mixed with soy sauce, has never earned a paycheck, and yells if anyone asks him to do the dishes.


@SarahP Daughters, especially eldest daughters, overwhelmingly tend to "end up" taking care of the parents. This is a frequent worry of mine. Even though I don't think I'm the favorite, I can already see the family dynamic pushing me towards being in charge of any necessary care for my parents in the future, regardless of relative incomes and whatnot.

Terrible secret: I like my brother's girlfriend, and it's likely they are going to end up married no matter what, but I would love if they did get married because she is already openly all about my mother eventually living with them.


@KatnotCat I'm sure my mother would choose me to take care of her, even though I'm not the favourite, partly because I'm the oldest daughter. That's not going to happen, though.


@MilesofMountains @KatnotCat Yeah, I'm the oldest of three and I'm the only girl, I figure this will fall with me as well. And while I'm pretty damn sure I'm not the favorite, I feel like my youngest brother has done enough ridiculous bullshit in the past couple years that I may end up being the default favorite, which is bullshit cause I've worked really hard to be the black sheep of the family.


@katiemcgillicuddy I always assumed it would fall to me, but my parents are trying to move back to the country I'm trying to leave, so it looks like it's my little sister. But Dudefriend (who will hopefully someday be Mr. packedsuitcase) is an only child, so it's not like I'm escaping it.


@KatnotCat "Terrible secret: I like my brother's girlfriend, and it's likely they are going to end up married no matter what, but I would love if they did get married because she is already openly all about my mother eventually living with them." Are you kidding me? That's incredible. God, what a gift that'd be.


@area@twitter She's Chinese--they both live in China but are coming to the States soon--so there is a huge cultural component to her interest. Hence me feeling like a terrible, half assed daughter when I feel such relief over that.

On the other hand, this brother is the long/always suspected favorite child by the rest of us, so I guess it could ultimately be a win-win-win-win situation.


@KatnotCat It could be a win-win-win-win situation, and it sounds like it might be, but that doesn't mean it's not complex and upsetting and confusing. Living with an older parent is a huge change in lifestyle for absolutely everyone involved, and it would be awful if you felt forced or obligated to share a living space with your mom. It feels kind of like the decision to have kids!
You're not a bad daughter. You're not. ::hugs::


@KatnotCat "Daughters, especially eldest daughters, overwhelmingly tend to "end up" taking care of the parents."

Hence the old saying, "A son is a son til he takes a wife, but a daughter's a daughter for life."

It's pretty clear to all of us that I'm going to be the one taking care of my parents when they need it. Not because they love me best, but because, compared to my younger brother, I have my shit together.


I just emailed the original article (which by the way is titled The Role of Violated Caregiver Preferences in Psychological Well-Being When Older Mothers Need Assistance) to my mom. Hopefully she doesn't find this insulting as she isn't that old (although her birthday is Wednesday so she's feeling kind of old right now) (oops) but if she does maybe she'll pick my brother for caretaker duty.

Harbinger of Something

The moral of my friend's family is: Have kids, then you can make the one who ends up staying close to home take care of your parents for you for the social benefit of the family. Preferably this child will be trying to leave to start her own career when things start to fall apart.

I mean, my friend's career.

fondue with cheddar

My mom has always said to just shoot her when she gets old and decrepit, but she might change her mind when she gets there. I think both my parents (who are divorced) would choose my brother because he's the responsible one.

fondue with cheddar

@fondue with cheddar (formerly jen325) I don't have kids so I'm the awesome aunt. Maybe my brother's kids will be willing to take care of me.


@fondue with cheddar (formerly jen325) I don't have kids and most likely never will. My dilemma is whom I can ask to take me out and shoot me when the time comes. Somehow I don't think my nephew will be up to the job.

fondue with cheddar

@Fflora Hopefully by then we will have gained the right to die and we can just do it ourselves or have our doctors do it.

Oh, squiggles

I make this agreement with as many friends and loved ones as possible: if I can no longer enjoy life, then put me out of my misery. I will do my best to uphold your decisions as well, should I be the longer lasting party.


What concerns me most is whether there will be any ice floes and polar bears left when my time comes.


@fondue with cheddar (formerly jen325) If only they'd just bring on the death panels already.

fondue with cheddar

@laurel I don't know whether to say I hope there will or I hope there won't. Because if there will because you don't live much longer, that sucks. But if there won't because you live a really long time, that sucks too.

Oh, squiggles

As long as she is still able to enjoy life, even as the only child and therefore only option, I have no problems taking care of my mom. She's fun, and I don't mind returning the favor! But we do have an agreement, that if one of us got to the point of being completely unable to enjoy life, then we would help the other one find release. But honestly, for myself and for her, I am just more concerned about staying as healthy and as active as I can while ageing gracefully.

And isn't there a difference between having a favorite child, and having a favorite caregiver? I would make my choice of a caregiver based on who has an easier time in that role, and who I would be less of a burden on. I might be extremely proud of my globe-trotting daughter, but still prefer that my son, as a stay-at-home dad, take care of me if I were ill or injured. That's not really the same as having a favorite child.

Angry Panda

Having seen this happen in real life, and the effect this has on the child actually taking care of the parent (not the favourite), I'd say this is an argument for not having children at all.


'PINNERS WITH (middle-aged) PARENTS: try to get them into a long term care insurance plan, if they (you?) can swing it. My mom and her siblings are caring for my grandmother and her increasingly-demanding medical needs (Alzheimer's, diabetes, decreased mobility) and even with the family pitching in, the help needed to fill the gaps is expensive. At this point, more comprehensive caretaking is not a financial option for my grandmother.

But also: so much of Mom's energy is taken up by Grandma's medical care. I can't help but feel like if my grandmother/family could afford someone to head up her care or put her in a residential facility, the family could better appreciate the time they have left and less time worrying about whether the sheets have been changed or shots have been administered.

Caretaking is super hard. I'd do it for Mom and Dad (and in-laws too) in a heartbeat if it came to it, but I'm so so grateful my parents have insurance to protect against having to put me and my siblings through the stress of it if the need arises.

miss buenos aires

@Sorbee Do you have any more info on long-term care insurance? I am having a hard time finding a site that lays out all my options. (ETA: My sisters and I want to go in on a policy for our parents.)


@Sorbee My parents have one of these plans, and it gives me a huge sense of relief knowing that if they needed a residential facility or home nursing that I will be able to afford it. Between that and my dad's pension, I'm much less scared about being the default caretaker.


@miss buenos aires I recall hearing this covered on NPR a while back - see here: http://www.npr.org/2012/05/08/151970188/long-term-care-insurance-who-needs-it

Mom & Dad's plans are offered through work (and I think they can still participate after they retire) so I don't know about buying it on the open insurance market. You might need to shop around...good luck!


My mom is a home health nurse, so she has lots of opinions about what happens to her and my dad once they get too old to do things for themselves. This is a good thing, because I...well, let's just say I wouldn't want me taking care of me in my old age.


I guess I'm surprised by all the "Not it!" comments on here and I'm curious about the motivations behind them. I get that not everyone has a super great relationship with their parents and OBVIOUSLY there's more to the story than one could possibly get from an internet comment board...but what's the alternative? Letting Mom just crap herself?

I say this, by the way, as someone who doesn't have kids and don't think of myself as particularly maternal or a natural caregiver. (Babies seem to hate me, for example.) But I also know that if the situation got bad I'd probably woman up and figure out how to make sure my parents' health wasn't neglected after they couldn't look after themselves anymore.

So, back to the commenters passing the (hypothetical) buck to their siblings or strangers: Is it that one really doesn't know how you'll react when actually faced with the mess that life sometimes throws at you? Is it that we skew young and don't have much experience with elderly people's needs, nor do we have many peers who have gone through this experience?


@Sorbee If I had to guess? It's because long-term care for a older parent is a physically, emotionally, and financially exhausting ordeal that can last for decades. I'm not going to let my parents "crap themselves", but I'm also relieved to know that they've made arrangements like long-term care insurance so that my brothers and I can make sure they're cared for in the best manner possible. I got to watch my grandmother slowly die of Alzheimers in a nursing home over fifteen years. They had to lock the doors so she wouldn't get confused and wander off onto the highway. I don't want to be the only one shouldering that burden for my parents.
I think it's also that caring for elderly relatives, like caring for kids, is very gender-divided. I'd be happy to help my parents out as they get older, but if it was assumed that I'd do everything because I was the girl in the family? I'd be pretty pissed off.


I think it's more complicated than that. If you've seen the type of care that many people need when they are very old up-close, you know that it can only be provided by somebody who is not also working a job at the same time. It's a lot to ask a person to give up their job to care full-time for a parent. Especially in an age where women & men both work. In the past, when people avoided nursing homes, people died younger AND there was usually a housewife who might take care of her parents and/or her husband's as well.
Also there used to be the rather horrifying phenomenon of women who wouldn't get married so that they could stay home and take care of their parents. I think it's not such a bad thing that we've got healthcare professionals and nursing homes now in addition to home-nursing.


@Sorbee In my case it's that I am very much not a nurturer. I actually suspect that I will take some sort of case management/paying for care type role with my parents and possibly the in-laws if necessary. But I am REALLY bad at dealing with people being dependent - not just am I not good at caring for people, but it sets off my temper. But I am good at paperwork, knowledgable about the insurance industry, and good at dealing with logistics. Caregiving, however, is just not one of my skills.

This is a major reason why I don't want to have kids - I also suspect that not having kids will free up a lot of financial resources that I can use for care for relatives / insurance and care for myself later on. If push comes to shove I would be willing to make a lot of sacrifices financially to care for the people I love but I think it would destroy my relationship with anyone if they were dependent on me.

Frankly, I am a huge huge proponent of paying for day to day custodial care when at all possible. I think there are probably some cultural differences, and no parent wants to feel neglected but I don't think aging parents particularly like having their basic needs (eating, showering, toileting, etc) being handled by their children.

H.E. Ladypants

@Sorbee Honestly, I lived through taking care of my grandmother and watching her mind fade and it was awful. I know sometimes you just can't do everything and that at a certain level, you just have to have outside help.

However, also honestly, my dad died very suddenly and the thing that kills me most is that I feel like I never really got to show him how much I loved him and how grateful I was for everything he did for me. If it were another path, another life, if things had gone another way, I'd be happy to care for him. Because he took care of me and I'm his daughter and I dunno. It just feels like the way it should have gone.


@Sorbee As someone who lived in her Grandfather's house with her mother from the age of 9 - 17, with her mother working full-time and caring for my Grandfather as well, I can tell you that it's a real motherfucker of an experience for everyone involved (at least it was for us).
a) By juggling a full-time job, single parenthood and an elderly man's round-the-clock needs (at least 3 trips to the bathroom per night, panic attacks [about 5 per day?], an oxygen tank for breathing purposes, inability to do just about anything for himself in the end), my mum was at her wits' end. 5 years later she still can't regain a proper sleep pattern.
b) my mother's 4 older brothers were not at all understanding of her needs. They flat out did not believe us when we told them that he was having regular, severe panic attacks (they would visit for half an hour, not see one, leave and he would have a huge panic attack that he'd been holding at bay because he didn't want to worry them, so the came to the conclusion that we were lying).
c) the division of belongings becomes fraught with distrust when you're left in the house after they pass away and people decide to drop in on you unexpectedly and think they'll catch you stealing things that are rightfully theirs.
d) fuckloads more shit that has still affected my mother and me to this day financially and emotionally and health-wise, too.


PS: My mother was never the favourite when all were kids. That changed when we moved in and spent time with him. Being the closest out of all the grandchildren to my grandfather was the best thing to come out of it all and there are no regrets on my part (not that I really had a choice - I was a kid).
The inverse problem was that when he died it hit me very fucking hard.


I'm interested by the assumption that the child you'd most want taking care of you as you age is the "favorite" child. I'd wonder to what extend parents pick caregivers based on how well they know it'd work out for a particular kid.


Also, I'm going to second the long-term care insurance, hard. My grandma needed constantly supervised care for the last fifteen years of her life; she had enough money saved to cover it all without being a burden on her kids, which I know she would have been grateful for. I'm immensely grateful that my parents decided to invest in the same thing- it's going to make a hard process that much easier.


There was an article, I think in the New York Times, several years ago about how people in the US were outsourcing elder care to India. I wish I could find it again, it was actually fairly interesting. Since my mom, my sister, and I all read it, now when the subject comes up we just say we're sending my mom to live in India when she gets older.


@schrodingers_cat Hahaha, my 72-year-old dad has only ever once acquiesced to going to an Indian restaurant. I wouldn't dare introduce the prospect of eating spicy food for the rest of his life.



Fer yer wiiiiiiiiine.

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