Men: The new caregivers?
By Lorraine Jones
(BlackDoctor.org) — Today’s struggling economy is forcing families to reorganize resources and rethink roles. Many men who were once their family’s breadwinners are more and more becoming their family’s caregivers.
“They’re not providing money, but they’re providing the labor that wives have been doing for years,” said Kristen Myers, an associate professor of sociology at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, Ill.
Most men have grown up in a household, and certainly a culture, where females have been perceived as the primary family nurturers. Yet often by necessity, more men than ever are rolling up their sleeves and helping an ill loved one with day-to-day tasks.
Myers and doctoral student Ilana Demantas have been studying the recession’s impact on the so-called “breadwinning ideology.” And what the uncovered after interviews with 20 recently unemployed men whose domestic roles have been turned upside-down was an unprecedented shift in attitudes about gender.
“They take care of the children, they go shopping, they clean, they take care of sick family members. These men have really embraced this new realm that they wouldn’t have chosen,” said Myers, who with Dementas presented the study findings today at the American Sociological Associations annual meeting in Las Vegas. “They hope it’s temporary and they can go back to work. But in the meantime, they’re changing their perspective.”
Today, baby-boomer men in particular may find themselves sandwiched between elder care and child care, and as they juggle work, family, and the needs of an aging parent, their stress and frustration at their daunting and all-consuming new roles can often turn into anger, despair, exhaustion, and burnout, and feelings of not being a “real man.”
Less of a man?
Many of the men interviewed for the study have said that the loss in income translates to a loss in their masculinity.
“Not only have they lost their jobs, they’ve also lost an important aspect of what they think it means to be men,” said Myers, adding that many of the men interviewed felt defeated and depressed. “But they’re making the most of it and learning new things. It’s an opportunity to live richer, although poorer lives.”
In addition to bouts of depression, anger and sadness, male caregivers often neglect themselves, eating an inadequate diet, ignoring their need for exercise, getting too little sleep, and postponing visits to the doctor. But the consequences of these behaviors can be serious, and experts stress the importance of continuing to address personal needs while helping to take care of the family.