When Caregiving Hits Home
As the owner of a home care agency, I send caregivers into homes. But it’s my personal experience that greatly shapes the way I manage and run this business. I have been a caregiver for 2 generations of my family. Until my early teens, my mother was my grandmother’s caregiver. And as I matured, I provided her respite care. A few years ago, my mother had a health incident that took several years from which to recover.
My grandmother was a homeowner and a mother of four. She was a retired school teacher and, at one time, she taught adult literacy classes at night to help citizens pass tests created to prevent African-Americans from registering to vote. She was an incredible baker- her specialties were red velvet cake, lemon meringue, and pecan pies. She was also a diabetic amputee, a survivor of open-heart surgery and a series of strokes in her later life.
Had she lived longer than 70 years, I am certain I could have learned so much more from her directly. But the indirect lessons she taught me significantly shaped my character and my world view. I had the privilege of seeing the model of an evolving caregiving relationship between my mother and grandmother. It wasn’t perfect-in fact, it was messy at times- but it was authentic. It was a shared struggle and a joint journey between them. I witnessed the evolving muscle of compassion between a caregiver and the recipient of care.
If I hadn’t had this apprenticeship in caregiving, I believe I would have handled my caregiving relationship with my own mother much less effectively. I had the advantage of being clear on this point: The true calling of caregiving is to support the independence of the person being cared for, to whatever extent they are able to be independent. The major challenge in following this calling is that the person’s level of independence can shift from day to day, and in some cases, moment to moment.
Here are 3 life lessons I learned from providing care…
1.We will most likely need a caregiver at some point in life.
If we are lucky– if we survive that car crash, if we wake up from that heart surgery, if we deliver that miracle baby, if we live a long life–then we WILL need a caregiver. Just as I wish every mother had the option of a doula to advocate for them during labor, I wish every person the support of a professional caregiver when they need them. I advocate for this, not only for the benefit of persons being cared for but for the equal benefit of family caregivers.
2. We need to rethink our attitude towards caregivers.
The relationship between those doing the work and those receiving care is complex. With each interaction, they are learning and adjusting to each others’ limitations and strengths. This requires firmness, compassion, forgiveness, creativity, and humor on both parts, depending on the situation. Caregivers stand with those who are staring down the face of their own mortality. Caregivers do this so that those who are cared for (those recovering from surgery, aging in place or living with disabilities) do not face their own humanity alone. This is a commendable feat that requires the absolute bravest of heart.
3. We fundamentally need to rethink the monetary value we place on professional caregivers.
Caregivers (and the larger population of domestic workers) enable every other field to function. They are the backbone on which economies are built. So why is it that, the work of caregiving is frequently undervalued, underpaid (and unpaid) and not respected? Is it because we are overwhelmingly women? Or is it that acknowledging caregivers forces us to face our own fears of mortality?
I am not sure. But consider this: When we calculate the cost to family caregivers that exhaust leave, forfeit career advancement and leave the workforce, the solution of professional caregiving for ongoing and respite care makes real sense. And when we consider the toll it takes on the health, happiness, and well-being of the caregiver, the value of a professional caregiver far outweighs the cost.
Take some time today the appreciate a caregiver in your circle. By caring for one person, they care for us all.