Guest Post – Jane Hanser – The Burden Interview: Of Mothers, Caregivers, Sons and Daughters

Jane Hanser is becoming a regular contributor and I today her post is about an issue that resonates with most of us who have been carers for an elderly relative and those who understand that this is a distinct possibility in the future. The aim is always to ensure that those we love enjoy the last few years of their life in a pain free, enjoying their usual activities, being nourished and surrounded by love.  That is the ideal but unfortunately most of us have to juggle our own lives and families to accomplish this and whilst it should be a team effort with other family members and with support services it is not always the case.

I was lucky many others are not.  I will now hand over to Jane to continue……

The Burden Interview: Of Mothers, Caregivers, Sons and Daughters


“You’re better at it,” wrote my brother in an email after I complained that he wasn’t doing anything for our elderly mom while I was doing everything.

His words still sting like a bumble bee.

Was that really supposed to appease me, or my primary care physician who was becoming extremely concerned as my blood pressure was rising higher and higher and higher and I was becoming pre-diabetic from lack of physical exercise? Or was it supposed to provoke?

Add to that the layer that he, my brother, lived only 20 minutes away from our mother, while I lived 300 miles away.

A Boston-based 2012 study indicated that daughters, twice as often as sons, become the elderly mother’s caretakers. But still, sons comprise up to 30% of those care giving for elderly parents. In Canada up to 30% of those caring for elderly parents are sons, shows a Canadian study. The “elderly parents” are usually mothers, since women generally outlive men.

While the men in the Canadian study indicated positives as well as negatives in caretaking, they still assumed that responsibility. Married men generally had the support of their wives, with whom they discussed decisions they were making.

So how does it get to be the daughter living six hours away becomes the primary caretaker when the son, living 20-25 minutes away, does virtually nothing? And what repercussions does this have on my, the caretaker by default, health, finances, social life and emotional well-being?

After another email months later to my brother in which I outlined everything I’d been doing vis a vis my mom and the toll it was taking on me, his response was “Thanks.”

Mine back was was “I don’t want your thanks. I want your help.”

While I could never anticipate my mother’s declining cognitive, and physical, condition, I also could never anticipate that I would get absolutely no help or support from my “bro” or support from my sister-in-law, receiving instead just the meek justification for why it was that he was totally defaulting on the small things, including asking for information about her current health, and the very large and major things and decisions.

The word “burden” is used repeatedly in all studies about adult children as caretakers of elderly and frail parents. And it completely amazed me that there is something actually called “The Burden Interview,” which I discovered on an online search.

This discovery was a true relief, and I gladly read the questions and circled my answer, recognizing so many aspects of what the questions addressed. Twenty of the 22 questions on the Zarit Burden Interview begin “Do you feel…..” or “Do you feel that…” One question begins “Are you afraid about…” and the last and 22nd question begins, “Overall, how burdened to you feel…” Answers ranged from Never (score of zero) to Nearly Always (score 5). I wish that the question “Do you feel that your health has suffered because of your involvement with your relative?” should score a 5 and that my doctor’s feelings about this should add in a bonus 5 points. Feelings are big in this test.

Test takers have 30 minutes for this test. Mine took much less, let’s not say how much less. Then I added up my score. Yup! “Moderate to Severe Burden.”

The one question that I’d like to see the questionnaire ask is: “Do you feel angry at other family members who are doing less than you are?” or “Do you feel that other family members should be doing a better job at caring for your relative?”

I do, and I do. I wish the Burden Interview asked these questions because the complete lack of participation in my mother’s caregiving by the person geographically closest to her adds a lot of stress too.

When one family member is clearly dis-involved, and wants to be dis-involved, there is no communication that is going to get you the understanding, and the help, that you want. There is no way to go but to accept that and let go. To do otherwise would be to increase ones emotional stress, and therefore burden and the consequences of that.

“Anger deprives the sage of his wisdom, a prophet of his vision,” says the Talmud. More conversations, more attempts to get somebody to see your distress or point of view would end in just more frustration, and disappointment, and a self-destructive cycle of anger.

CARETAKERS of ELDERLY PARENTS: How many others like me are there out there? I would guess I’m not the only one.

It’s often repeated how commonly families break up over money, especially after the death of a parent and the distribution of the estate.

Or, in this case, they functionally and emotionally break up long before. And when that’s the case, don’t hang on and let it raise your BURDEN SCORE even more!!

About the author


Jane Hanser’s poetry and essays have been published in numerous print and online journals such as Poetica Magazine, The Persimmon Tree, Every Writer’s Resource, and others. She has developed software to teach writing, self-published a grammar book and taught English as a Second Language at several campuses of the City University of New York. She has an M.Ed. in English Education and ESL from the Graduate School of Temple University. In her other life, Jane is dedicated to many and varied community activities, in particular feeding the hungry, literacy, and bicycle and pedestrian safety. She spends way too much time on the computer and would like to rejuvenate her painting watercolors. She is married and lives, works and plays in Newton, MA. Joey’s descriptions of her in Dogs Don’t Look Both Ways are, except for a few insignificant details of time and place, true and accurate.


Link to Jane’s Five Star Treatment and guest posts

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20 thoughts on “Guest Post – Jane Hanser – The Burden Interview: Of Mothers, Caregivers, Sons and Daughters

  1. Pingback: Guest Post – Jane Hanser – The Burden Interview: Of Mothers, Caregivers, Sons and Daughters | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  2. Such an important post. So many of us can relate. We live 300 miles from my MIL, and get there when we can. She is now in a senior independent living situation, and her home of 65 years needs a lot of attention. She lost her husband a little over a year ago, and will not make decisions regarding the outcome of her home/possessions. The burden has fallen on my youngest brother in law, who moved her within 5 miles of his home, just to make it easier for him to attend to her. And he does. My husband, recently retired, looks at all this with his typical logic, and not emotion. She is 86, and in clear mind, she is just not ready to let it all go. ❤️

    Liked by 1 person

      • I think about that all the time, Sally. But, she would have us go there, and that will not happen. If she’d travel to us, it might work…but we have stairs, and that would require some adaptation…bad knees and leg swelling, arthritis are major concerns.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I could not do again in all honesty Van.. you life changes so much as does your relationship with the one you are caring for.. you do what you can and even if that is frequent phone calls and remembering special occasions with some visits. The main thing is that they are safe and cared for in their own home or a good facility.. hugs

        Liked by 1 person

      • Oh, for sure he did, we all helped. I should have worded it to the effect that he encouraged her to move closer to him, the senior center is 5 minutes away, and he used to travel almost an hour to check on her. We were all relieved, as other siblings all live hours away from their home town. We scattered !! ☺


  3. My mother needed care for only three months and we were five siblings. I cannot imagine being an only child or a situation where a sibling is forced to do it all alone while another lives closer or refuses to become involved. My heart goes out to Jane and othersin a similar situation. ❤ ❤ ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much for commenting and for your “heart.” It’s so wonderful when siblings can work together. Because that’s the natural expectation, and to try to get some communication, and assistance, and shared effort, going. it’s taken me a very long and painful time to accept the otherwise. I tried asking, “Do you want to help?” and the answer would be “yes” and “How would you like to help?” then I’d get no response or assistance. So instead of opening the door to this disappointment, I’ve just decoded the message and moved on. And yes, we’re here on the blog because I suspect that others like me are going through this, experiencing this “burden” though no two situations are exactly the same. As our parents, and moms, live longer and longer, they also suffer progressive illnesses such as Alzheimers’ dementia, etc., that make them progressively more and more needy.

      Liked by 2 people

  4. Pingback: Saturday Round Up – How to escape Crocs, Cats on Ipads and The Hills are Alive! | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  5. Thanks Jane. I’ve heard of similar cases and you’re right, it does cause acrimony and problems, for good reason. I’m an only child and recently we went through my father’s illness and passing. My mother is well at the moment, and I managed to spend a fair amount of time with them over the last year (in Spain, I normally live in the UK), but it has made me think even more about the future, and although not immediately, I’m aware there are decisions I’ll need to make. I have no family of my own or children so whatever happens, it will be me.


I would be delighted to receive your feedback. Thanks Sally

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