Care{giving} Myths

2015 November 11
by Dr. Zachary White

We are at a crossroads in American life—our beliefs about care and caregiving no longer reflect our everyday realities. In a recent interview with the Washington Post, Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the new book, Unfinished Business, discusses the challenges of the caregiving role and argues that when we talk about care, most people tune out.

But why is it that care in American life is so misunderstood when we know the demand for informal caregivers—that’s you and me—is greater than ever. If you’ve ever wondered how care and caregiving have become so misunderstood and marginalized, here are some common myths that don’t reflect our everyday realities:

  •  “Some people are just better at caregiving than me.” Nurses, doctors, and other medical practitioners, these are the people who are the experts, right? Not necessarily. The need for care does not begin and end with professionals. Care and caregiving isn’t something we can ever fully outsource, because care cannot be contained in hospitals. We are forever grateful for the experts of the body, but care also includes helping us cope and make sense of what happens to us and our relationships as a result of our bodies. We don’t need to provide our resume to participate in a caregiving relationship with someone we love. Care isn’t reducible to something that we’re either good or bad at—attention, access, and willingness are the most profound requirements of care that all of us possess. Care doesn’t ask us to be extraordinary, but to be remarkably ordinary. To walk with someone in the midst of need. To listen. To reach out. To be available. To know that we are bound to one another not by competence, but by fragility.


  • “Care and caregiving is for older people.” This myth of care is deeply ingrained in our collective belief system that associates age with need. Tell this to the college aged student whose parent has been diagnosed with Huntington’s disease. Tell this to the 30-something father of two, whose dad has Alzheimer’s. Tell this to the child whose parent has debilitating pain that affects her ability to work and provide. Tell this to a mother whose father’s mental illness affects her whole family, each day, without notice or preparation as to what the next day will bring. Care is not defined by age, status, occupation, or gender. Loss, illness, and grieving do not happen only when we get older. To be involved in life means care can’t be postponed until we are ready. It finds us, wherever we are and whatever we are doing, whatever our title, and whatever our capacity or desire.


  • “I have too many things going on in my life to be a caregiver now.”  We’re never ready to be a caregiver—we are all drafted. Caring for someone we love doesn’t mean everything else in our life stops. Caring for a loved one isn’t something that we simply provide or give. This antiquated notion of care means that we are completely healthy and the person we care for is in complete need. It’s never this simple. Those in need of care live with us and amongst us, amidst our many other obligations, worries, relationships, and joys. To care for a loved does not mean having the luxury of letting go of our other responsibilities. We work and care and love and suffer and support and need and hurt and raise children and care for parents and are inspired by those we care for. Caregivers are not free of need and care themselves. And those being cared for are not void of dreams, wishes, and the capacity to make a difference. Care doesn’t begin with bold proclamations and it doesn’t end when we think it will. It is simultaneously momentary and permanent.


  • “Caring for someone I love will be too much for me too handle.” Suffering and need and illness do not fall upon only a select few of us. Few loved ones choose to be a caregiver. Some of us are not more apt to “handle” other’s challenges. Care and caregiving is not a specialty we major in or go to any special school to study. This is because we’re never just caregivers. Just like we’re never just employees. We’re all of these things, mixed together in ways that make care not something we do as an occupation, but something we become. Gone are the days when one person can handle care alone. Care is rarely achieved alone—it’s accomplished in coordination with doctors and nurses and family and friends and work colleagues. It’s not something that we can delegate to others nor is it something we can do all our own. Care is a social act, not a private act.

In a world of specialization, care is one area of life that asks us to do and be in ways that challenges us mentally, spiritually, physically, and emotionally beyond what we thought was possible. It is the universal, human experience. None of us know what this journey will bring. When care meets love, we are alike in that we are all unprepared.

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