Women and Friendship
Today I was listening to NPR and there was a woman, an author, talking about caring for her elderly mother and how hard it was emotionally and financially. I think this is something that we know we will most likely do for our parents, if we are lucky to outlive them, but the impact it has in our lives; the lives we think about and want to have is something we have no way to grasp until it happens. Sort of like when you have your first baby.
Two things strike me the most:
a) The lifestyle that the majority of people in the western world have (and I am not discussing if it is good or bad, I will leave that for some other post) does not allow for caring for elderly family members.
b) How important friendship, specially women’s friendship seem to be in our lives.
When I talk about lifestyle, I refer to the statistics that point out that the traditional family (A marriage in which the father is the bread winner and the mother is the one stay-at-home have 2.5 kids) is disappearing. According to the 2010 census, less than half of the families are married, out of those, only 1/5 complied with the traditional definition, most families (70%) had dual-income and were not married. More than 30% families were single-parent households and 20% of same sex couples are raising kids.
Similar stats in the UK. Women are more likely to have a kid at 25 years old than to get married.
What I am saying with all of this is that if the majority of people have a lifestyle that means that everybody is working a lot because they need/want the money, who is there to care for the elderly when needed? Unlike babies, old people don’t grow up to be more self-suficient. It gets worse every day, all the days.
As a woman trying to balance my professional interests and time with my kids, I also crave the time I spend with my girlfriends and lately, I have seen a rise on girls-only social affairs: Girls-Night-Out, Girls Weekend, Girls-Only Birthday Parties, you name it. Still and in spite of how common this is, I have been unable to explain how important they are for us (women) to my husband.
The story I heard today, gave me a clue. It seems that because families are not only spread-out but also non-traditional in a way in which the care-taker is strictly defined and is always there, we are going back to the communal definition of “family” for us women.
Remember those books where you read/saw all the women on one tent cooking and caring for the kids, learning and talking to each other? This is what I think is happening these days. We rely on each other for emotional understanding (because we all know men are not especially good at this), for motivation, for sharing responsibilities (playdates?), etc. And I think we are really good at this!
A woman today said that she has had this very good friend for over 30 years. She is married (the storyteller is not) and they enjoy their company and now they will be caring for each other when old (since women outlive men). They have already made plans and are basically waiting for the husband to pass out so they can buy their real estate and retire together!!
I realize this is a extreme case, but think for a second about all those 23% families being led by a single woman. Who is going to take care of that mother if the kids can’t/don’t want to? Her friends!
I have had 2 women I know closely care for dying friends. Those friends had family but the family was far away or a hundred other reasons. One of those women left her job to care for her friend and she does not have kids. I think I know who will be caring for her.
Here’s an interesting study about Women and Friendship by UCLA updated earlier these year.