Getting Rid of the “Reluctant Care Partner”

When did caregiving become something that is so incredibly shameful? When did it become a burden instead of a gift or purpose in life? The reluctant care partner has become the socially acceptable way to refer to oneself, and it has me wondering what it truly means to work in service of another’s care.

Since March of 2020, a flood of posts and articles fill my inbox about the reluctant care partner. The mother, now working from home and helping her children further their education. The daughter or son who pulled their loved one from the care community for fear of never seeing them again if they didn’t act. The wife taking full care responsibilities after the in-home care aid is no longer allowed to visit by the organization or by family choice. Stories about the burden and challenge of care, personality clashes, and old wounds reopening when the role of care partner intensifies. These stories are recited almost in unison. We, as a society in 2021 look down on care partners. That is loud and clear. And we do it in the worst possible way. We increase shame and stigma in how we talk, act, and dramatically complain about what it means to care for another. We don’t want to sacrifice ourselves in a time when “I want when I want it, and I will get it” is the strongest desire. We care in terms of black and white, one task after another, and the unwillingness to make a sacrifice for the love of another. Non-care partners patronize and abandon care partners in need. Family that was quick to receive help and a listening ear, now are silent when that listening ear requires one herself. Both sides belittling themselves, adding to the stigma of care.

The split between professional and family, skilled and unskilled, is only that much more palpable. What it means to be a mother, father, sister, brother, friend, community, physician, and therapist have changed, altered through social distancing, isolation, lockdowns, and the intense magnifying glass of our world today. We vilify the nuclear family, yet that is what has saved so many of us this past year. We don’t allow our doctors to care and heal, only fix and report as they look, beady eye to beady eye, unable to fully see the person they are in front of because of masks and shields. We have forgotten that we are all care partners. We have forgotten what it means to live in service of another, helping them live fully alive. We have forgotten what it means to be alive. We have become ashamed of the journey of care partner because it messes with our “perfect life” idea. As we all know, perfect does not exist in this world, and we all play many roles, with great visions for who we are and how we want to live. Maybe it is time to start factoring in the role of the care partner, to live in service of another, to create, little by little, a better world.

May we remember what we are all human. We are all facing our trails in search of our triumphs. We are all capable of living in service of another in ways that never deny us who we are but ask something of us and our love. May we remember that this journey can be one of back and forth, taking care of each other, honoring the family, AND the professional life.

We don’t need to be ashamed of the care partner role. Play it with pride, with joy, and with great comfort in knowing you are easing the suffering of another.

Published by Kathryne Fassbender

Creative Gerontologist, Speaker, Catholic Innovator. I am also the granddaughter of someone who lived with Vascular Dementia.

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