Stay-at-home daughters

The New York Times reports on a new form of spinsterhood, the career woman turned caregiver.

Published November 28, 2005 2:38PM (EST)

For those professional women who think they have dodged the "Mommy Track" bullet by deciding not to have kids, the New York Times on Thanksgiving has some very bad news: It's called the "Daughter Track"!

Yes, according to the Times, there's a great big trend in which unmarried career women are chucking the whole "work" thing to return home to care for their elderly and ailing parents full time. Noting that in other eras, "the task of caring for elderly parents often fell to the unmarried daughter who never left home and never worked for a living," the Times claims that this new iteration of the practice is "a 21st-century twist on the 19th-century spinster" and that professional women "who have made their mark in the world are returning home to care for parents in old age."

This piece was troubling for several reasons. First, like so many New York Times stories about the habits of professional women, this one focuses only on the wealthiest and most successful bunch of them: lawyers, radio anchors, nonprofit executives. That's not automatically a bad thing, since not every story can take into account every socioeconomic bracket. But the paper needs to acknowledge it and pay equal attention to the social and cultural habits of poorer working women as well: Can they even afford to stay home with children or parents?

But there's something else about it, a feeling of "Aha! Gotcha!" directed toward all those slippery career women who managed to wiggle out of giving up their careers to be mothers. You thought you were home-free, but no! You have parents to take care of, and you're female, so it's up to you, not your husband or your brother!

As parents live longer and longer, there are surely valid and important questions about who will take care of them. I just hope that the female-as-natural-caretaker narrative doesn't become yet another way to punish women who have chosen to spend their lives working outside the home.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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