Friday, March 21, 2008


I'm scrambling to get work done, catch a train, get to the airport, and figure I'll sleep for the first time in three days on the plane, but I can't go without at least putting up a link to Olderwoman's amazing personal essay on family/life and caring for her mother.

I know people who do research on long term health care issues so I know what the structural realities are. We are facing the same kind of thing that lots of families are facing, many with fewer resources than we have. Nothing we are facing surprises me nor makes me feel that we are in any worse situation than anybody else, but it brings it home. When my mother got out of the hospital, she could not be alone, so she and my sister hired a 24-7 health care aid at $225 a day. My mother has some assets but is not wealthy, and this is not a viable long-term solution. (There is a cheaper service that is $125 a day that they may try. They picked the more expensive one because they thought it was better if the people doing the work were earning more. But then you run into the ability to pay issues for the long run.) My mother does not need high tech help, at least not yet. Many patients are being sent home with families expected to do high-tech medical procedures at home that used to be done only by licensed professionals in a sterile hospital environment. So I know that things could be much worse.

I’m not complaining. Aging and infirmity are part of life. I know from other research that many families find themselves forced to choose from among terrible options as they deal with these issues. Force your parent into group care? Quit your job so you can stay with your parent? Raid all your financial assets to pay for care? Divest the parent of assets and go on Medical Assistance? Look for low-wage exploitable labor? How do you factor the well-being of your parent and the well-being of others? How do you operate as a family when you live spread out all over the place and everybody has a job and a house? The important sociological question is this: What would good social policies look like to help people as they become infirm? At the moment, I don’t know the answer. But I do know that more and more people are asking these questions.

Work/family issues are what I'm working on now, and I am sometimes paralyzed by the seeming intractibility of the problem, the lack of politically/economically feasible solutions, and my anger at the rhetoric of choice, both in the "opt-out revolution" of Caitlin Flanagan and Lisa Belkin and the "it's your responsibilty to work" Linda Hirschman critique.

It doesn't help that I am pulling late hours, and that TD is pulling twice the late hours, and that what we say most often to each other is "your job sucks." But there's not many other choices for us right now, and there will be even fewer in the future as we get more responsibilities.

At any rate, more on work/family and structural, cultural, institutional, economic, and globalization effects/constraints tomorrow, after I have slept off some exhaustion and find myself in DC with my best friend next to me and either a puppy or a laptop on my lap. More likely the laptop. This is a working vacation.