Episode 60: Caregiver Pride

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Last week I spoke about the lack of value placed on caregiving. Today I am going to continue the conversation focussing on value in caregiving. Last week I spoke about how I feel caregivers say they feel lonely and unsupported because they are misunderstood and how I realized that it’s more that we feel undervalued and lack validation.

Let’s talk about our worth today.

Often times we value ourselves based on the feeling of worth we get from the people around us especially if we are in a role that feels unstable. Caregiving has never felt stable for me. It’s more of a rollercoaster ride that sometimes I just want to jump out of. Last week I said that if caregivers were valued in the societies they lived in they would feel supported. That would ease some of the hardships they live with now because there would be more support systems set up for them including education, therapy, a stipend and a team that would help them with their needs so they could care for their loved one. Having that is a lofty goal to have. It would take lots of activism, advocates and organizations willing to work solely on improving the lives of caregivers. There are some people out there trying to do just that. But in the meantime I feel we can do our part.

Here’s how…

Last week I spoke about how when I was a stay at home mom and a yoga teacher I also didn’t feel understood and many times people didn’t feel that what I did had value. However, I felt validated by having a group of people that were also stay at home moms and yoga teachers so I didn’t really care. It didn’t cause me pain. Just annoyance when I realized that what I did had no value for them. However, my approach to announcing what I did back then is different than it is now. Caregiver is still almost always at the end of the list of things I say that I do  - and what I do is help caregivers. But being a caregiver isn’t always given the credit it deserves.

 I should know better!

Right now we own the messaging. There aren’t any caregiving PSA’s being produced anytime soon so the only way people will begin to notice our worth is if we communicate that to them. 

I mean, think of it. 

Right now if someone were to ask you what you do.

What would you say? 

How would you say it? 

What would the tone of your voice be? 

What would your body language look like? 

Do you give off I want to be invisible  vibes or is it a, look at me, moment? 

Or do you start out with saying your loved one has “Fill in the blank” disease or disability and then happen to mention you care for them?

How can people begin to learn how valuable caregiving is if we don’t communicate that ourselves?

Do you work outside of your home AND care for a loved one? 

Do you hold caregiving with the same pride as you do the job that pays you? 

Do you feel more comfortable talking about the person you care for than the actual caregiving that you do? 

Do you shrink when you tell someone you are a caregiver?

Why? 

Why do we do that?

I think that first of all some of us don’t all identify as caregivers. We know that we care for someone but we don’t see that as what we do. Not understanding that you’re a caregiver or not willing to accept that as a role you have, comes across in how you talk to other people about it. If you don’t own the fact that you’re a caregiver it will come across as not being of value to the people around you because for some reason you don’t or you aren’t ready to accept the importance of what you do. Accepting your role as a caregiver is a bigger topic but something that you should think about. 

If you don’t fully accept the importance of you caring for your loved one why would you expect anyone around you to? Maybe we feel we do other things that are more important than caregiving. Is it your other job? Volunteering? Being a parent? 

Sure all of those things are important roles but ask yourself why would caregiving come last in that list? What would it feel like if you said - I’m a caregiver for my son who I stay at home to parent and I volunteer at his school and I’m also a reading tutor? 

If you feel that everything else you do is more important than caring for a person …

how will the world you live in see how important it is? I can go on with different scenarios but it will all come down to the same thing… if you don’t value caregiving,  people around you won’t value it either.

We’ve already established, last week, that it isn’t about other people understanding what you do because it’s impossible to fully understand caregiving if you’ve never been one. However, people will pick up cues from you on how they can feel about caregiving and if you are hesitant to say that is what you do or if you make excuses for only doing that  - then that’s what they are going to think of it.

We are our own walking billboards so to speak. If we are proud of what we do that will show to the rest of the world in how we talk about caregiving and how we advocate for ourselves. I think that in order to be proud of something you need to feel like you have an understanding of what you’re proud of. We need to understand what caregiving is for us. 

What is our role? How does it define our day and how does it affect the life of the person we care for? What does caregiving mean to you? Is it a role you have accepted or is it an extension of being a spouse, mom, child or friend? 

That makes a difference. If you don’t see caregiving as a separate role then you won’t be able to fully understand it’s importance.  You won’t be able to find the pride within you about that role which then won’t be communicated to the people around you.

Caregiving is a role. It’s a separate entity from your relationship with that person. You know why? You can always chose to not be a caregiver. You can find yourself in the future not being able to be a caregiver. If you care for a parent you may find that you can no longer be a caregiver for them and have to bring someone else in to do it for you… but you will always be their child.

You might not have felt that you were given a choice when you became a caregiver but you have the choice to continue as one. So please understand that caregiving is a role you assume when you begin to care for a person. Caregiving is extra, it requires more of you, it affects more of you and in the end it can have the power to overwhelm you to the point of needing care yourself, if you let it. 

Caregiving is complicated. It’s something you are and something you do at the same time. You don’t get a break from it. There are no business hours for being a family caregiver and until you accept that you’ve become one, things will feel more difficult than they need to

If and when you can accept that caregiving is a role you are responsible for, then you can start to become proud of it. That can’t come from anyone but yourself. That might feel like a lot but finding pride in what you do can be as simple as saying it. You can start by saying…

I’m a caregiver. I care for (insert person here) and I work to make their lives better. I coordinate their care with their doctors, I make sure they are comfortable and fed and I support them in any way I can. Even if all I do is hold them while they cry I have made a difference in their world. I help to make their lives a little bit better each day and I am proud of that.

Or you can simply start to say I’m proud of being a caregiver! Take a day or so to just think it. Then maybe begin to write it down on a piece of paper every day. Then start to say it so you can hear it. Maybe it’ll start as a whisper and grow each time. Post it on your FaceBook page. Go to your support group and blurt it out (if you do please tell me how that went). Post something on Instagram and tag me on it, so I can see it. Find all the ways to start to tell the world how proud you are of being a caregiver. Be obnoxious about it. Put it in people’s faces so much that they’ll start to question what is this caregiving thing.

Getting people to pay attention because of how important you make them feel it is, is the first step to getting people in your circle to start to become interested, aware and show up.

Defining your role will be the topic of next week’s episode. But for now let's start with getting comfortable with cultivating that feeling of pride for all the important caregiving work you do.

Again, I invite you to meet me in the FB group or email me your thoughts on this conversation because I know its continuously evolving and you might have a point of view that would help see things from a different perspective.


 

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