‘I fret about the years that lie ahead’: the unique caring burden of single childless daughters

I think of Clarice Beckett often. Not so much for the early 20th century painter’s exquisite, misty seaside landscapes. Instead I think of Beckett because she was a single childless woman upon whom the burden of care for elderly parents fell.

Beckett, considered by some to be Australia’s greatest female artist, lived with her parents for her entire adult life and, as they grew frailer and sicker, her days were increasingly consumed with housekeeping and nursing duties. To hold on to her own life and purpose, she would leave the family’s bayside Melbourne home at dawn to paint, return for a day of chores, then at dusk venture out again, trundling her painting trolley.

We cannot know Beckett’s feelings about her housekeeping and nursing roles, nor her feelings about how the time she had for her work was curtailed. She was the oldest daughter. Her only sibling, Hilda, was married with children. It was the natural order of things that the “spinster” daughter would assume such duties.

Women, in general, take on a greater burden of care across the board. But a 2020 Australian study found that single women over 45 without children take on more caring responsibilities for family members who are ageing or have a disability than any other group in their age cohort – partnered people, people with children or men.

“There’s the idea that if you don’t have children, you’re not really that busy. I’m constantly told about how parents are juggling lots of balls, but the work I do supporting a friend with addiction, checking on my elderly aunt or offering extra support to work colleagues is pretty invisible,” Nicole says. “I think the important things here are about expectations, choice and recognition of single childless women who have the option to do this, not have it thrust upon them.”

Read more in The Guardian.

Written by External Article
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