Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Are You Mom's Favorite?

The subject of birth order and elder caregiving comes up often, so we thought now might be a good time to resurrect some research showing Mom really does have a preference for who will care for her in old age.

Cornell University researchers in 2009 talked to mothers aged 65 to 75 in the Boston area about who was the favorite among their children. Perhaps surprising to those who'd always been told Mom and Dad don't play favorites, these women freely admitted to being emotionally closer to one child over another.  "Parental favoritism is a fundamental part of the family landscape throughout life,” gerontologist and lead researcher Karl Pillemer told reporters when the study was released.

Part of that closeness may be the parent believing a particular child better reflects his or her values and way of thinking, which can be important when the time comes to depend on that person to help take care of them. And that child, according to other research, most frequently is a daughter and/or the youngest child in the family.

“If you expect you may be losing your autonomy, you want a child who shares your values,” Dr. Pillemer told a New York Times blogger. “If someone’s going to be making decisions for you and you know you’re going to be dependent on her, you want someone you feel close to.”

The problem, though, may be that the chosen caregiver is not in the best position to assume that role. Again, research suggests Mom doesn't care if her favorite is raising her own children, unemployed or even battling substance abuse.

But other siblings might care, which is why it is so important for brothers and sisters to have conversations about long-term care for their parents, particularly before a crisis hits and duty-bound adult children are caught ill-prepared.

After so many studies on birth order, a few generalizations have emerged that can help a family sort out responsibilities for elder caregiving. Oldest children tend to be the most responsible and therefore may be best as handling legal and financial issues; middle children are the best peacemakers and can mediate conflicts over care; and the youngest are typically the closest to their parents and should be ready to make room for Mom or Dad if need be.

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1 comment:

Kelly said...

This is an excellent article and it appears each child in the birth order has a significant role in the care of their parents. All the children, just remember, the Glenner Family Centers are here to assist you.