Those on the outside looking in often think they’ve got the right idea of what caregiving is all about. Unfortunately, since more often than not people don’t ask directly about what it’s like, their assumptions are usually wrong. Today I’d like to share a few of these assumptions with you, which I’ve encountered in my own caregiving journey. I’d also like to point out just how much they can differ from reality [honestly].
- Full-time caregivers have a lot more free time than those who work.
No, actually we don’t. You see, for those who aren’t caregivers their schedules are compartmentalized; they have time when they are working, and time when they are not. Now granted, the time when they are not working might need to be dedicated to sleep, errands, etc., but as a general rule, they get to decide how they spend their free time and it is not working 24/7. Caregivers on the other hand, are not afforded ‘free time’. I’ve had several people make comments about the free time that I have and when they do, I have trouble keeping the rude retort I feel like making to myself.
“I’m just so tired…cause I went to work today.” *Insert eye roll here*
I am the primary caregiver to my infant, whom my husband cannot assist me in caring for. I have to care for three people in my household, manage finances/appointments/everything else and I never get days off (even a couple hours is rare). Caregiving is my job, all day, every day. To think that I have more free time than someone who works out of the home simply because I don’t, is ridiculous.
- I need to learn to ask for help
Everyone assumes that a caregiver just doesn’t ask for help enough. It’s like the favourite of unhelpful statements that people tend to make, along with: “You need to take more time for yourself”, or “You can’t do it all, all the time.” Instead of telling a caregiver what they need to do, how about offering help? And not some platitude like: “If you need anything I’m always here.” If you really want to help, be specific. For example, offer to stay with a loved one so the caregiver can get out (give dates, times, details). To be honest, we don’t ask for help because too often we get these empty offers that are more like advice we don’t need.
It has dawned on me that sometimes I need help (no really). But if a caregiver doesn’t have much support in their immediate surroundings, who do you suggest they ask? How do you suppose they should get help and with what? Anyone can point out a problem without offering a solution…
- When I share my struggles, I need it to be fixed.
Caregivers experience a lot of stress. If you’re a family member or a friend then we might share our burdens with you and the strong feelings we have about them. Please don’t assume that we are looking for you to fix it, or make us feel more positive. This is definitely not what we need. In fact, when you tell me to keep my chin up and that everything is going to be okay when I’ve told you I’m feeling low, to me the conversation just ended. You just closed a door, and made me feel like what I’m feeling is wrong. I don’t need to be told that everything is going to be alright, I need to just be able to express myself and have someone listen. Just listen, that’s it. Let me share and feel what I’m feeling and know that someone else empathizes with me. That’s all.
- That we are stronger or better than anyone else.
I find a lot of friends and family put me on a pedestal. They gush about how strong I am for being a caregiver. I can see how this could be meant as a compliment, but in reality, it’s a barrier. This is how people rationalize the difficult situation that is caregiving; that the caregiver is an incredibly strong person, above and beyond everyone else. And if they are that awesome, then you don’t have to worry right? You don’t have to ask them how they are. You don’t have to think about the daily struggles they have. You don’t have to bother with it because they’re strong. It’s a way of sweeping the whole thing under the rug. This way of thinking doesn’t foster empathy, or kindness, or love. To me, it’s ignorance and chosen ignorance at that. People don’t want to see hardship, so they choose not to. And this doesn’t help a caregiver one bit. I am no different from anyone else, I just do what I have to for my family.
I realize this post comes off as being brutally honest- and that’s because it is. These are things that just need to be said, not because I aim to make anyone feel bad, but because by not being aware of these things there are many caregivers out there who feel bad all the time. If you’re a part of a support system for a caregiver then your words and actions matter- so come from a place of genuine interest and kindness, not of ignorance and apathy.
As my awareness increases, my control over my own being increases. -William Shutz