Women are expected to singlehandedly bear the burden of household duties after marriage in our society. They must run the house, rear kids and attend to every family member’s individual needs. This is what you sign up for, and most women walk into marriages in India knowing what awaits them. However, what we also need to discuss is how in most Indian households, the duty of tending to elders also falls chiefly on daughters-in-law. It is they who must compromise with their career, routine and individual needs, to ensure that aging in-laws, and sometimes even extend relatives of the patriarch, spend their last days comfortably. Why is it assumed that a daughter-in-law is accountable for elderly care in a household? Besides, why doesn't she get any credit or appreciation for all the love and care she puts in? Or are her contributions simply taken for granted, because of her gender and status in a household?
- In most Indian households, daughters-in-law bear the duties of elderly care.
- A report says that 68 percent of daughters-in-law helped out with physical caregiving at home to elders as compared to 51 percent of sons.
- But are their efforts recognised or appreciated?
- Must elderly care be burdened on a person solely? Is it fair to expect women to compromise with their routine and career just because of their gender and status in a household?
Why is it assumed that a daughter-in-law is accountable for elderly care in a household? Besides, why doesn't she get any credit or appreciation for all the love and care she puts in?
Eldercare is seen as a family responsibility in India, unlike the west, where people themselves make arrangement for their care in advanced age. In a patriarchal society though, parents prefer sons over daughters as it is the former's responsibility to keep them comfortable in their old age. But there’s more to a comfortable living than financial security in advanced age, and it is the daughters-in-law of every household who perform such chores.
A report by HelpAge India has revealed that nearly 68 percent of daughters-in-law acted as caregivers to elderlies, providing physical care and helping with daily chores such as using a telephone, shopping, preparing meals, housekeeping, washing clothes, transportation, taking medicine, as compared to 51 percent sons. One would think that men, who are conditioned since childhood that caring for parents in their old age is one of their prime duties as a son, would be more active participants in physical caregiving, however, we don't have to look at these statistics to know how far that is from the reality.
While we all grew up listening to the tale of the dutiful obedient son Shravan Kumar, a standard most male children are expected to live up to, I can recall no legends or stories which paid an ode to a caring daughter-in-law.
But just why does it matter who is providing care to the elderly? As a couple, aren’t you supposed to share your duties in a household? So what if it is a daughter-in-law who is acting as a care provider to her aging in-laws, isn't that what any good person would do? The problem is that often, women do not get due credit for their dedication and their work goes unnoticed and unappreciated. They aren’t given a helping hand, let alone a choice when it comes to eldercare in many households.
While we all grew up listening to the tale of the dutiful obedient son Shravan Kumar, a standard most male children are expected to live up to, I can recall no legends or stories which paid an ode to a caring daughter-in-law. Such stories of dutiful sons who care for aging parents act as agents of patriarchy, dangling the carrot of a comfortable old age before couples, to “try” for a male child. Girls are seen as “paraya dhan” who will be of no use to parents in their advanced age, and thus should be married off as soon as possible. However, once she becomes a daughter-in-law, she is handed over the responsibilities to care for elderly in-laws, as entitled sons and estranged daughters go on to mind their own business and living their own lives. Women have to anyways sacrifice career in our society for marriage and motherhood, might as well stretch it out to care for aging in-laws.
But should elderly care, or any household duty for that matter, be assigned on basis of gender? Yes, we must take good care of our ailing in-laws and parents, but forcing eldercare on someone only makes them resentful towards the task. Besides, it is simply unfair to burden a single individual with such physically and emotionally taxing duties. It could take a toll on mental health and even affect equations the said person shares with other family members.
The elders in every family deserve to live their lives out with dignity and daughters-in-law deserve to have help from others in providing eldercare, so that they can focus on other aspects of their life. Sharing the duties in question will not ensure that elderlies in a family get exceptional and thorough care that they deserve; it would also prevent them from being labelled as a burden.
Picture Credit: UEA
Yamini Pustake Bhalerao is a writer with the SheThePeople team, in the Opinions section. The views expressed are the author’s own.