Caregiving In the Face of Hostility

This story originally appeared in the MomsRising “Leaning Together” Blog Carnival.

Photo: I am holding Ari, then a baby, at my parents’ home in New Hampshire in 2004. At the time, my parents, grandparents and youngest sibling lived in the same three-bedroom townhouse. Growing up, I always lived with extended family, or family members stayed with us for extended periods of time. -Elisa

Any day now, my baby sister, who is actually 28-years-old, will have a baby of her own and stay with me. She will be a single mother and I am her only family in the area.

She and the baby will be the 6th and 7th members in my three-bedroom house here in the San Francisco Bay Area. Depending on your cultural background, this is a given – she is familia after all – or you will look at me as if I have three heads. What do your parents / husband / kids say about this? What the heck is she going to do? — as if single parenthood is the worst thing to befall on anyone.

I view both the situation with my sister and reaction to her as emblematic of a deeper cultural and economic issue in our country: we don’t value caregiving. If we did, my sister who is working towards a Master’s degree, would be able to support herself and her baby. If we valued family above all else, we would view my niece’s entrance into this world as a blessing and not a curse that could possibly derail the lives of the people living in the house.

I am not worried. Thankfully, both Markos and I have jobs that give us flexibility and the ability to make the mortgage each month. But I often think of the added pressures that low-income families of color face when they balance demanding jobs with extenuating circumstances related to family.

Here is a Washington Post article I can’t get out of my head – and one I can relate to coming from a close-knit Latino family: African American women are more likely than any other demographic group in this country to care for extended family in spite of great economic hardship. We are talking about women who take in babies that are not their own when they are over 50 years of age; women regularly taking in extended family members and pitching in for weddings or rent – even as their own finances are strained.

Coming from a low-income family that was both on the giving and receiving end of such generosity, stories like these warm my heart. They also make me sad. Unfortunately, such giving is penalized in our country, condemning these women to a life of poverty.

I look at my own parents who are caring for my grandmother who has Alzheimer’s disease in their home. They are such kind souls, yet their generosity is costing them dearly: they are strapped for both time and money, at times, unable to make ends meet. I don’t buy that this is the only “choice” that working families have. This is due to our current priorities as a country.

We subsidize corporations like banks and big agricultural firms. Surely, we can dedicate a piece of the pie to caregivers? Childcare shouldn’t cost more than college and our caregivers shouldn’t have to qualify for food stamps.

For me, this is the next vanguard of feminism. Until we properly compensate our caregivers, we can’t say that this country honors families — or that all women are free.


Wednesday Morning Open Thread

What’s up?

First, a very happy birthday to our resident mom of 7 tjb! (Her birthday is tomorrow.) You are an inspiration to all of us here at MotherTalkers. Thank you for shedding your light and wisdom!

There were elections last night. And as of 10 p.m. PT, Rick Santorum had crushed and swept Mitt Romney in Missouri, Minnesota and Colorado, according to results at our brother site Daily Kos. Ouch for Romney.

Speaking of sanctimonious Rick, there are a few reproductive justice articles I want to highlight. The first one is this hilarious story at Jezebel about a pro-choice Democrat in Oklahoma amending a personhood bill to include protections for semen ejaculated anywhere outside a woman’s vagina. Needless to say, it failed as this would mean no masturbating, no wet dreaming or oral sex for men without being charged with harming an unborn child.

The office of Congressman John Fleming (R-LA) was called out for posting a satirical Onion story on Planned Parenthood as real news. The story, which was clearly fake, was about Planned Parenthood building an $8 billion “abortionplex” complete with coffee shops, bars, dozens of restaurants and retail outlets, a three-story nightclub, and a 10-screen multiplex theater— “features intended not only to help clients relax, but to foster a sense of community and make abortion more of a social event.” The article was taken down — after a screen shot of it was featured on Literally Unbelievable. ROFLMAO!

And in a glaring example of the giant disconnect between Catholic church leadership and parishioners on the ground, a poll found that U.S. Catholics are more supportive (58%) than the general public (55%) of having employers provide health insurance plans that offer birth control at no cost. This story was all over the place yesterday, including Daily Kos.

Marriage equality wins (again) in California! Here is a story on it at the Los Angeles Times.  

Speaking of family values, the Washington Post ran a powerful story on how African American women are more likely than other demographics to care for extended family in spite of great economic hardship. This reminded me of a story some years back about how African Americans were more likely to care for their parents in old age, and not likely to get any inheritance. Unfortunately, their generosity is punished in our backwards-ass economic system.

This article is in Spanish, but too fun not to share. Jeannette Kaplun over at TodoBebé wrote her top 10 favorite things to do at Disney World in Florida. She considered dining with the various characters, taking a ride on the Monorail, and riding on the Pirates of the Caribbean to be highlights. Disney World is so huge and crowded that it can be overwhelming. What are your and your children’s favorite things to do there?

I hate to end on a sad note, but I must mention that Susan Niebur, the 39-year-old mother who publicly and gracefully battled breast cancer, which she documented on her blog Toddler Planet, passed away on Monday. Here is a wonderful Washington Post story on her.

I remember seeing Susan at the Blogalicious conference back in October. She was wheeled in where, despite her physical state, she gave a rousing testimonial about battling cancer with six-year-old and four-year-old sons. She was a public advocate for more research to cure cancer.

Seriously. When are we gong to find a cure for this awful disease? May Susan’s family find solace after such a terrible loss.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


In Sickness and In Health…

Happy TGIF, all! Here is a story to mull and discuss.

The Washington Post Magazine ran a page-turning feature story about a former editor that had a heart attack and was permanently brain-damaged. The story was told in his wife’s perspective who was left caring for her husband, a baby and a toddler. After several years, she realized that his personality had changed, he was not going to get better and had to move to a nursing facility. Then she moved on — with another man.

It’s an arrangement that appears to have worked for all involved, however, she received vicious feedback from readers who felt that she had not honored her wedding vows. In fact, the newspaper followed up with a Q&A that I also read from top to bottom. This is a sample of some of the questions that she received:

I thank you from the bottom of my heart, Page and Susan, for making the public aware of the difficult road which spousal caregivers travel. As the spouse of a quadriplegic, I totally understand how excruciating it can be to balance a sick husband’s needs, your own needs, and your children’s needs. I was chagrined by the judgmental and hostile comments posted by people who truly have no idea what our struggles encompass. As medicine evolves and more and more people survive with severe cognitive and/or physical deficits, we all need to think “outside the box” for compassionate solutions. Thank you for sharing what is working for you. It brings hope to others who are feeling despairing and alone. I’d also like to recommend the Well Spouse Association as a wonderful peer support organization for spousal caregivers. Our motto is “when one is sick, two need help.”

Thanks for your comment! I have heard of the group and am glad you are calling attention to it. Thank you for sharing your struggles, and I wish you well. Please know that you are not alone. I hope, too, that you ask for help sometimes!

I’ve read the article twice. It presents an incredible dilemma and I am so very sympathetic to the circumstances. The gist as I see read it- a happy marriage is dealt a severe blow and, not liking the hand that was dealt, one spouse decides to move on. My question is this: to what vow is it that you are being lauded for holding true?

I appreciate this question, and I understand this is a sticking point for a lot of folks. I would disagree that we have “moved on.” Robert is central to our lives and now benefits from a stronger support network than he had before. Not a justification for anything – just the fact of our lives how. I will take care of him forever. In the context of my faith, I am standing by him and with him. I am fortunate to have found someone who will share this with me

What was telling to me was that Robert’s family was so supportive of Page’s remarriage, and felt she was in fact still honoring her vow to Robert. Robert’s father said he was confident that, no matter what, Page would always be there for him….  

When you say you made the decision within your faith, could you explain that some more. Many would argue that breaking your vow by ending your marriage isn’t compatible with any faith. How did you reconcile it with your faith?

Thanks for the question and I understand that my choices are not for everyone. I had long discussions about the meaning of those vows and I concluded that I am standing by Robert in every sense and at the same time, ensuring our girls are cared for and that Robert will always be cared for. Again, wasn’t what I was looking for, but I have to make peace with the fact that our new life helps everyone.

Everything about this story was intense. And as people live longer, it is likely to become more common. My heart goes out to spouses who find themselves in this impossible situation. Did you read the story? What did you think?


Monday Morning Open Thread

What kid shows do you record? Right now, Ari is into Sponge Bob Square Pants (Nickelodeon) and Eli is into Disney’s Little Einsteins and PBS Kids’ Super Why!.

After “attending” a PBS Kids webinar on Friday, I added another to our list: Martha Speaks. The show, which is based on a book by Susan Meddaugh, presents the point of view of a dog named Martha. It is aimed at building the vocabulary of children between the ages of 4 and 7, perfect for my household which has two kids aged 4 and 7.

At the webinar, Meddaugh and Martha Speaks Senior Executive Producer Carol Greenwald were on hand to talk about the series and answer questions from bloggers. The first thing they announced is that a new episode will air today, “Martha’s Slumber Party of the Weird,” and on Friday, “The Long Rotten Summer.” In between, PBS Kids will air all summer-themed Martha’s Speaks episodes.

I felt nostalgic when Meddaugh described the inspiration for her books: a flea and tick-ridden stray mutt named Martha who her family adopted when Meddaugh’s son was only 8 months old.

“Whether it was a combination of her breeds or the fact that she had been a stray for a while, she was a very interesting dog,” Meddaugh said. “All of our dogs since then have been rescue dogs and stray dogs. You never know where they are going to take you. This little doggie has taken me for a great ride.”

Aw. It reminded me of the wonderful dogs — and a cat! — that we had as a kid in Miami. They, too, were all strays us kids convinced our parents to keep. We don’t have a dog because this isn’t a place where a dog without a collar is likely to show up. People really do take care of their pets here.

But none of the kids have expressed an interest, and Eli is afraid of dogs. I don’t know why, and I am hoping that Martha Speaks will make her more easy around them.

I also thought this was cute: “Whenever 2nd graders ask me whether Martha speaks, they really want to believe that she speaks,” Meddaugh said. She added that having children read to a dog is a great way for them to acquire literacy skills.

Do any of your kids watch Martha Speaks? Do you like it? What are some of your favorite kid shows?      

In other news, Women’s Health ran this blip on longevity:

New Age Rules
You may have inherited your dad’s baby blues and your mom’s lithe legs, but your life span isn’t so predetermined. A new study shows that life expectancy has much more to do with your lifestyle than with your parents’ longevity. Researchers tracked 855 subjects and found that being a nonsmoker, having low cholesterol and blood pressure, and exercising on a regular basis are what pushed people into their nineties and beyond.

I wonder where the subjects lived? I’d like to see more research on air quality and longevity. is circulating a petition to help stave devastating cuts to healthcare coverage for children, the elderly and people with disabilities. Here is why this is important:

Medicaid provides health care coverage to nearly 33 million children, 11 million people with disabilities, and is the primary payer for 64 percent of all nursing home residents.

Even with help from the government, it is difficult to care for those who need it most. These cuts would be devastating for caregiving families. Shudder.

It is summer so I thought I’d run this Circle of Moms piece on “10 Ways to Soothe a Sunburn.”

Kudos to country singer Chely Wright who wrote a wonderful essay about how her faith and sexual orientation are not incompatible for the Huffington Post.

In related news, our Dana over at Mombian crunched Census data numbers and found that a quarter of all same-sex couples in the United States are raising children.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Cultural Biases Around Caring for the Elderly

Here is a story that was mentioned at Latina Lista and for good reason. For Latino immigrants, there is a cultural bias against nursing homes, therefore it isn’t uncommon to see an elderly Latino being cared for by a child or grandchild.

Unfortunately, for 26-year-old Stephanie Hernandez of Madera, California, her good intentions became her worst nightmare as the state accused her of elderly neglect following her 91-year-old great aunt’s death. From the Los Angeles Times:

But when firefighters and paramedics opened the door to the little house on South A Street that December morning, they were immediately overwhelmed. By the stench — urine, feces, rotting flesh. By the mess — soiled diapers, used bandages, a stained mattress.

Most of all, though, by Lopez’s body. The bed-bound woman who’d suffered from dementia and shied away from doctors weighed just over 35 pounds and was covered in bedsores, some so deep they bared bone. A metal rod from hip surgery was visible.

Hernandez was arrested and then charged with murdering the woman she had bathed, fed and changed for three years. She would be put on trial, accused not of any overt violence against the woman who had raised her but of failure as a caregiver.

Hernandez’s great aunt, Maria “Concha” Lopez, did not want to be put in a facility like her sisters. She refused any outside care, including hospice.

Fortunately, the defense was able to show that Lopez actually lived longer at home than if she lived in a facility. Hernandez was acquitted of all charges by a jury. But she is now fighting for custody of her 4-year-old daughter, who she lost during the five-week case.  

The L.A. Times article was very sympathetic to Hernandez in that her situation is not at all uncommon in the Latino community. She was raised by her great aunt so she forewent school and other dreams to care for her and her daughter at the same time.

Latinos, in general, are likely to toil in low-wage jobs, not save for retirement, and either expect to be cared for by offspring and/or have to care for an elderly family member. Even if they are not against nursing homes and facilities for the elderly, chances are, they cannot afford them, and instead care for the elderly themselves.

Here is some analysis by an expert at Latina Lista. (Sorry, but the link is only available on Facebook!)

As noted earlier, however, living longer does not necessarily mean living well. Balancing quality-of-life issues — including cultural preferences — with harsh economic realities will become increasingly difficult, both for families and for those who fund and carry out public assistance programs.

Returning then, to the question of who will take care of our Latino elders when they are no longer able to take care of themselves, I suggest that each of us can assume some share of the responsibility.

One key to effective planning for the future is obtaining sound information, whether that be family members gathering facts about available assistance or policy researchers gathering data about demographic trends or public officials gathering forecasts on the economy.

It’s also going to take recognition of cultural differences. American doctors should be trained and prepared to have candid discussions with Latino patients about end-of-life care, and encourage more patients to put their preferences in writing. Also, it would be helpful to have a list of resources on hand, especially for those families who choose not to use a facility.

As for the Latinos, I do think we need to be more open-minded and flexible. Life in the United States is more expensive and faster than in Latin America. Having grown up in this country, I am convinced that the grand majority of Americans really are doing the best that they can with the resources that they have.


If I Were An Inventor…

I smiled at this doodad in Japan. From the CrunchGear blog:

A research laboratory at Japan’s Ritsumeikan University has developed a monitoring system for wet diapers that consists of a self-powered sensor/transmitter and a receiver and is supposed to assist staff in hospitals and nursing homes in performing diaper checks with elderly patients. The sensor kit has to be placed inside the diaper and sends signals to the receiver unit, which was co-developed in collaboration with Seiko Epson.

Both the sensor and the accompanying wireless transmitter are powered by a built-in battery that can generate electricity following a chemical reaction in the presence of urine. Once this happens, the sensor kit can transmit signals to a receiver located as far as 3 meters away.

This piece made me fantasize about a Jetsonesque Rosie-type robot that will potty-train my strong-willed 2.5-year-old. Yes, MotherTalkers, it is going badly. I tried to re-introduce the cloth diaper service, hoping that Eli would want more frequent diaper changes or to use the potty, but instead she would sit in her excrement until she got diaper rash. Sigh.

We are back to disposable diapers. You see, she knows when she has to go, but she tells me — only when she poops — after she has already done so. She will sit on the potty like it is a toy, but not do anything.

But I know she is able to reason as she specifically says (giggling), “No, mami, poo-poo va en el pañal!” Silly me. Ugh.

Offering to buy her shoes — one of her favorite past times — books or candy has not worked either. I have no idea where to start next. I am thinking of looking into a potty-training camp before school starts in the fall. I remember feeling enormous pressure with Ari right before he started preschool. Eli still has 8 or 9 months to go. Any suggestions?

Also, if you were an engineer, what would you invent to help parents or caregivers?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers! How are you this morning?

I am about to run errands in preparation for Ari’s birthday party. He turned 6 on Monday, but we are celebrating with our closest family and friends today.

In the meantime, here is some news we discussed here at MotherTalkers:

When is it appropriate — if ever — to stop hovering over your children’s finances? Excellent financial columnist Michelle Singletary wrote about this topic over at the Washington Post.

I recently asked for advice on potty-training. Eli is 2.5, will start preschool in the fall and I am unsure when or how to start. A father over at the Daddy Dialectic blog used stickers as an incentive.

Newsweek published a couple of studies on parenting. One had to do with how reasoning with your children as opposed to barking commands gives them cognitive advantages. The other one showed that children do indeed make married couples happy.

Our brave reviewed the memoir Lucky Girl and interviewed author Mei-Ling Hopgood.  

If you can stand another tawdry health insurance story, a toddler was denied healthcare coverage because she was too small, according to the TODAY Show.

We had a long discussion about the mom who was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight because of her rambunctious toddler. The airline later apologized to the mother, but many commenters in threads across the blogosphere were sympathetic towards the airline.

Disney is offering a full refund for its Baby Einstein DVDs. It has been accused of overselling the products as “educational.”

Finally, we checked in with each other to see how the school year is going. Ari likes kindergarten most of the time so no complaints on my end. How is the new school year going for you?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Hi all!

I am back with your weekly parenting and caregiving diary. What did we talk about here this week?

All the rage surrounding children in public places. Literally. A Wal-Mart shopper in Georgia was charged with felony cruelty to children and held without bond after he repeatedly slapped a two-year-old across the face, according to this CBS report in Atlanta.  Roger Stephens, 61, warned the child’s mother if she did not quiet the child then he would. Then he struck the 2-year-old girl three times across the face, leaving red marks.

We had a similar discussion — although different take — on a California mother and an 18-month-old who were asked to leave a theater at a museum. The two men “shooed” the 18-month-old who they say disrupted the movie. The mother proceeded to argue with the men. Have your children been reprimanded by strangers in public? What was your reaction?

Now that school has started, we discussed strategies to get kids moving in the morning. Some of the suggestions included a checklist, or for smaller children, pictures of them doing morning chores. How do you get everyone ready and out the door in the morning?

In related back-to-school news, we talked about kindergarten being the new first grade.

In light of the Jaycee Dugard case, our 1plain1peanut wrote about the number of moms in her neighborhood who won’t let their children walk to the bus stop without an adult. She advocated for teaching our children common sense — and independence. Have you become more protective of your children in light of the Dugard case? How have you broached the topic of kidnappings with your children?

Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids wrote about Connecticut banning medically unnecessary ultrasounds. What do you think?

Also, are any of you as outraged as I am over the conservative outrage over President Obama’s addressing students next week? Oh. My. God.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up? ran a story on promising renewable green jobs in the midwest. We are going to need it as the United States continues to hemorrhage jobs, according to the Washington Post

Paula Span, an expert in caring for the elderly, recently discussed caring for aging parents with Bostonia magazine.  

This is shameful: The U.S. Department of Justice found evidence of mistreatment at 13 residential state facilities for the disabled in Texas, according to the Corpus Christi Caller Times. The Caller Times said cell phone images of a fight club started by the wards is about to emerge.

I have one word for Salon’s Kate Harding: Bravo! She wrote a wonderful piece on how criticism that Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin is letting down her children by quitting is sexist and unfair. I appreciated her recognition that mothers just can’t win no matter what they do.

Katy Farber over at Non-Toxic Kids doled out tips for a greener car trip.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?