Working women caring for ailing mothers enjoy care-giving role

June 22, 1995

ANN ARBOR—Despite the multiple demands on their time and energy, working women who are caring for their elderly, disabled mothers fare better than unemployed or retired women in their care-giving role.

A study from the University of Michigan School of Nursing, which analyzed the relationships of nearly 100 elderly mothers and their adult daughters, reports that employment acts as a protective buffer for daughters and seems to enhance their positive feelings about taking care of their mothers.

“Employment apparently functions as a support which protects daughters against negative beliefs about the care- giving role,” said Joanne M. Pohl, assistant professor of nursing. ” It maintains their self-esteem and gives them another focus in their lives so that the burden of care- giving is diminished. ”

One working daughter in Pohl’s study called her ailing mother every hour while at work, ” but she was remarkably affirmative about her care-giving role and never complained. ”

Pohl also discovered that working women provided fewer hours of hands-on and supervisory care. ” That suggests that they have arranged for more help from others. Their burden is shared and their attitudes are more positive. ”

The quality of the mother-daughter relationship affected how much time the daughter spent giving direct, hands-on care. ” Daughters, who indicated that they and their mothers nurtured each other, anticipated each other’s moods and were interdependent, provided the most direct care and felt the most positively about their care-giving role. ”

Daughters who were tangled in conflict with their mothers, however, also provided a significant amount of direct care. ” They had more negative feelings about helping their mothers but they still took on the responsibility and did what had to be done,” Pohl said.

Thirty percent of the daughters chose to live with their mothers early in the care-giving experience. The decision to live together after care was needed was driven by the degree of the mother’s disability, not by the quality of the relationship, Pohl said. The women who began living with their mothers after they fell ill felt the weight of responsibility more than all the other women. They also provided more supervisory care—planning and arranging of care and just being there—than women who continued to live separately.

“Another 23 percent of the women had been living with their mothers before they needed care and seemed to have adjusted already to their mothers’ presence and needs,” Pohl said. ” It was surprising to find that, in total, 53 percent of the women in our study were living with their mothers again. It may be that adult women are more likely to be living again with their mothers than they expect.

“It also was striking how consistently the daughters rose to the occasion. One woman who was quite worn out said that she felt privileged to care for her mother and ‘would do it all over again.’ Then she added, ‘But I wouldn’t want my own daughter to do it for me.’ Our numbers suggest, however, that there is good chance that her daughter might be doing it someday, too. ”

Pohl’s findings were reported in the April issue of Nursing Research.

Nursing Research